I remember I was 23 and I had just gotten my first job out of uni. I was really interested in home cinema technology and I decided to save up for a top of the line Denon with Audyssey. It was a tank of a machine.
I came from a bottom of the line Marantz without any room correction so this was super exciting.
I didn’t upgrade the speakers I had – some bargain priced Celestion that had bi-wire capabilities and a kick-ass sub I still use today for my studio.
I naively thought that just following the manual and configuring Audyssey once, I would experience perfection. Well, it sounded OK but let’s just say I was slightly underwhelmed considering how much I paid for the receiver.
So we decided to build a dedicated area with the latest JVC projector, the top of the line Denon I just bought and a new set of M&K speakers with a matching sub. If you’ve been in Home Cinema for any length of time, you know that M&K are considered the Holy Grail of home cinema speakers. As great as they are, I beg to differ but that’s for another article.
In any case, I set up the Denon again with Audyssey and the results I got were even worse than before.
So if providing a dedicated space and spending literally 10x as much on speakers didn’t do the trick then what does?
Well, let’s just say I have spent a lot more time learning about my new found hobby since then so let me fill you in!
Well, there are five things that make a large difference when setting up any room correction system but especially Audyssey:
- Speaker positioning and installation
- Room treatment
- DOs and DON’Ts of microphone placement
- Microphone pattern you use to calibrate
- How you configure Audyssey after you’ve set it up
Audyssey is incredibly sensitive to all 5 of these setup issues, even more so than other room correction solutions.
Some people simply give up by disabling Audyssey on certain channels, or above a certain frequency.
Others still try and create their own “house curve” or frequency curve using the Audyssey mobile app. I don’t think any of these solutions are ideal.
So if these are not the solutions, then what is?
Speaker Positioning and Installation
Two issues need to be taken into account when thinking of speaker installation: speaker positioning and speaker decoupling.
It is very important that the speakers are pointed at the listeners’ ears or away from it dependent on which speaker position we are talking about and whether the speakers are highly directional or not.
For front speakers, it is very important that the speakers are pointed at the listeners’ ears. For surround, surround back and ceiling speakers, it isn’t always ideal to do this and is highly dependent on the speaker make / model as well as room size, seating arrangement, etc.
Secondly, it is critical that all speakers are decoupled from the room. It is most critical to do this with the centre speaker and the subwoofer(s).
If this is not done, Audyssey will spend precious DSP cycles on trying to fix these issues and sometimes make things even worse.
One of the biggest misconceptions in Home Cinema technology today is that you can solve all room acoustical issues by using sophisticated DSPs. This is incorrect. You can minimize the issues in certain parts of the room but you cannot fully remove the issues – and in certain rooms you will end up creating new ones.
This is especially true of Audyssey because unlike Pioneer and Yamaha, Audyssey’s algorithm is not nearly as good at taking into account reverberation time and the resulting psycho-acoustical effects within the room. This is why Audyssey can sound harsh or very piercing in the high end.
You can also do your own research. What you shouldn’t do however is skip this step and use the forums to find new ways to trick the system to sound decent. But that’s all that does – it will sound decent and not exceptional.
DOs and DON’Ts of Microphone placement
I cover this in my Yamaha Guide as well here and the same things apply but with an even sterner warning: Audyssey is super sensitive to these issues.
- Don’t put the microphone on the headrest, sofa or any hard surface.
- Don’t place it close to walls
- Don’t put it on your coffee table in front of you unless you plan to listen with your head on the coffee table
- Do use a camera tripod or even better: a microphone boom stand to hold it. A boom stand decouples the microphone from the room a lot better then any other method and will get you the best results!
- Do put the microphone at ear height
Firstly, even if you only have one or two listening positions, you MUST use all positions when calibrating. Otherwise you’re not giving the algorithm enough data to do the calibration and you’re doing the equivalent of simply rolling a dice.
Secondly, I’ll say this out flat: the mic pattern within the receiver user guides is absolute rubbish. There is no other way to say this. Apologies to Sound United and Audyssey but it’s a large part of the problem. It may work for some mythical “perfect room” scenario but by all means, Audyssey, please include the exact room, materials, etc so we can build it while we’re at it. 😉
There are two competing aims when building the correct mic pattern for your use:
- Keeping imaging and impulse response intact as much as possible
- Getting a good frequency response in as many seats as possible
These are two competing goals. Normally one needs to be sacrificed to improve the other. This is why it’s so critical to implement good room treatment as that will result in an improvement of both across the listening area.
But getting back to the mic pattern, in my opinion, a tight mic pattern works much better for Audyssey than a more spread out one. I describe two patterns in Secrets of Audyssey but let me give you some pointers here to allow you to build your own:
- The first position must be at the centre of the listening space at ear height – positioned as if the microphone was between your two ears
- The next 2 positions should be left and right to the starting position at a distance between 10 and 30 cms.
- The next 2 positions can be in front and behind the starting position at a distance between 5 and 15 cms.
- The rest of the positions can be kept close to the primary position or spread out in other seats dependent on whether you value a flatter frequency response across seats or better imaging / impulse response.
I myself value imaging much more and since I actually did the hard work of treating the first reflections in the room as well as reducing the reverb time, I tackled frequency response to a point where it is pretty consistent from seat to seat.
However, in your particular room, you may prefer something entirely different.
Ultimately, my advice is this: don’t just run the setup routine once and forget it. If the sound is not satisfactory, rerun the routine again with a slightly different mic pattern and check results with movie material you are familiar with. I say movie material as music is not recorded to a particular standard – movies are to a point. Let’s stick to that story for simplicity’s sake.
Configure Audyssey after Setup Routine Has Run
- Crossovers: I recommend these at 80hz even if the receiver has set them lower. There are many reasons for this but the main one is that Audyssey has more accurate filters for the subwoofers under 80hz and with an ideal setup, you may just get a better response.
- Crossovers should never be lowered however. For example, if the receiver has set them at 120Hz, you should NOT lower them to 80Hz. Instead, you need to review the speaker positions, aiming, room setup, mic positions, etc and re-run the setup routine. This is because no filters are created for anything below this frequency and the speaker is not capable to overcome room issues below this frequency in its current position, setup, etc.
- If you have the mobile app, you can disable midrange compensation. However, this step is NOT critical to have a system sounding great. Advanced users only.
- You do need Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume enabled for movies. The reason people tend to think that they need a house curve is because they don’t understand the principles of loudness compensation. Read the linked article to learn more. I say this seriously… if Dynamic EQ and Volume are not sounding great with your setup, you did not set up your speakers, room or the receiver correctly.
A common complaint that people have when enabling Dynamic EQ is that it is too aggressive. There is an offset function within Audyssey that you can use to dial down the effect. Use it!
Dynamic Volume should be set to day mode. Again, the issue here is that listening to any material below reference volume means that quiet passages will disappear below the human hearing threshold and loud passages will still be loud. It’s best to use Dynamic Volume to compensate. It will restore the perception of relative scale and actually convey the original intent and scale of the soundtrack better at anything below reference.
Secrets of Audyssey
If you are serious about Audyssey and home theatre, I would recommend you get the Secrets of Audyssey guide and skip 15 years and hundreds of hours of learning and setup.
Get the Secrets of Audyssey guide!
Also, doing this properly means you don’t resort to disabling such technology in your receiver or indeed doing your own curves in the mobile app which might get you towards a sound you like but takes you away from what the soundtrack is meant to sound like.
There are psycho-acoustical issues for why Audyssey set up according to the manual will not sound great for 80% of people. I explain these in more detail in the guide.
Audyssey set up correctly does NOT need disabling of Dynamic EQ and Volume, does NOT need custom curves in the mobile app and does NOT need disabling of Audyssey in the high frequencies.