Cinema versus Home
Movies are designed for the big screen and movie soundtracks for the big auditoriums of cinema multiplexes. When played back through a home cinema system in a smaller room, the perceived tonal balance of the soundtrack changes.
Tonal Balance: in simple terms, it is the amount of perceived bass, mid-range and treble present in a soundtrack.
All modern receivers have a way to combat this through equalisation of the speakers / room and filtering of the high frequencies which removes the perceived treble push of smaller, undampened spaces like your living room. However, you may notice that even after such equalisation, something is missing no matter how loud you play your equipment. This is because the big cinema auditoriums have different reflection and reverberation of the sound as it bounces around the room than in a smaller room.
This is what Yamaha went on to solve using their expertise in musical instruments and sound recording. Enter Yamaha Cinema Digital Soundfield Processing (DSP),
Yamaha Cinema DSP
Yamaha knew about this issue before all other manufacturers and they went onto recording and analysing the real-world behaviour of sound in cinema (and other) spaces. The extensive amount of data collected allowed them to digitally recreate the spaces using digital signal processing and in 1985 they released the Yamaha DSP-1, a standalone processor that could re-create cinema soundtracks as if they were being played back in a cinema.
Fast-forward almost 30 years and Yamaha’s Cinema DSP is in all Yamaha Home Cinema Receivers and have advanced to a point where it requires serious attention from anyone interested in home cinema.
What you need
You will need
- A recent Yamaha Surround Receiver with at least 7.1 channel capability. Although Yamaha’s lower end units can do virtual Cinema DSP through a 5.1 set-up, it is not nearly as effective as having separate speakers.
- An additional two speakers that will be used for the Front Presence speakers. They can have lower power handling and efficiency than your main speakers. Small bookshelves or satellite speakers will do with a frequency response from 100Hz to 20Khz.
- More wires
In essence, Yamaha’s Cinema DSP reproduces the reflections and reverberations of the cinema spaces through 2 height speakers at the front called Front Presence Speakers. Although you can use the front left and right speakers to reproduce the soundfield (called Virtual Cinema DSP), it produces a muddy and indistinct sound and does not compare well to the real set-up.
Yamaha’s more advanced Cinema DSP called Cinema DSP HD3 uses an additional set of speakers for the back soundfield called Rear Presence Speakers. When using DSP HD3, the Front Presence Speakers are more important to install than the Back Presence Speakers. Please see the full configuration below:
Cinema DSP 3D and Cinema DSP HD3
Cinema DSP 3D only has the capability to use Front Presence Speakers. Yamaha’s lower and mid-range receivers have this version. The rear soundfield data is mixed into the surround speakers. For this reason, it works better if the surround speakers are not at ear height but at least half a meter or more above the listening plane.
Receivers of this class are capable of 7.1 or 9.1 channel output. For 7.1 channel receivers, the back surrounds will not output sound when the Front Presence Speakers are being used by Cinema DSP. The 9.1 channel receivers have the capability to power all 9.1 speakers at the same time.
Cinema DSP HD3 improves on 3D with two things:
- An additional two channels at the back (Rear Presence Speakers) that only reproduce the CinemaDSP effects for additional clarity. This expands the speaker configuration to 11.1.
- Double the processing power to calculate more precise soundfield data both in the frequency and the time domain. For example, this means that sound reflections are tracked in space for double the time than with DSP 3D providing even more clarity.
From Adventure to Sci Fi
When Cinema DSP is configured well, you will experience your walls literally melting away and your home cinema opening up to sounding like a big movie theatre. To configure it, do the following:
- Ensure that the Front Presence Speakers are placed wider and higher than your front left and right speakers.
- Run the YPAO automatic calibration even if you will not use the EQ function of your receiver. This is because higher end Yamaha receivers will adjust the Cinema DSP parameters dependent on the already existing acoustic characteristics of your room.
- Select a Cinema DSP program (called movie) on your Yamaha Receiver.
There are 6 movie soundfields on all modern Yamaha receivers. Read your Yamaha manual to understand the differences between them. As a guide:
- Select Sci Fi for any action or Sci Fi movie or where the soundtrack has lots of precisely steered effects.
- Select Drama for movies with lots of dialog or for TV programs.
- Select Adventure or Spectacle for older movies or movies with big musical scores.
- Mono movie for – you guessed it – mono movies.
- Select Standard when no other soundfield sounds right for the movie or when you want to leave the front soundstage intact.
In addition there are many parameters you can adjust for each soundfield to make it sound less or more spacious. It is rather difficult to configure these manually, so download the Yamaha iPhone and Android app to your phone that allows you to configure them easily.
I recommend this even if you have an older receiver that doesn’t allow you to configure soundfield data using your phone. You can simply use the app in demo mode and copy in the parameters using your remote manually.
What about other manufacturers?
Even though other manufacturers have started using DSP soundfield programs, they don’t have the sophisticated algorithms Yamaha uses. Most simply add echo or reverb to the soundtracks to create some kind of effect as opposed to precisely measured soundfield data. I recommend auditioning the difference between them.