The Audyence Is Listening
Let me get this out of the way: even though I am disappointed with Audyssey’s lack of innovation over the last 10 years, I am a HUGE fan and advocate for what they stand for, their excellence in research and the technologies they have implemented.
The issue is that Audyssey has not been focusing on Home Theatre very heavily over the last 7-10 years. During this time, Dirac Live has come along and leap-frogged Audyssey with regards to out-of-the-box sound quality, even if they are lacking when it comes to ancillary technologies.
And that is kind of the point: I still see Audyssey as having a trump card: and that is Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume. Both absolute genius technologies with the aim of playing soundtracks faithfully regardless of volume levels. After all, who wants to listen to their content constantly at cinema reference levels.
The issue I see with Audyssey’s announcement of MultEQ-X is that there is still zero acknowledgement from Audyssey that their core technology: their signal processing and filter selection algorithms need improvement. Instead, we are back to where we were 5 years ago Back to the Future style: pro tools to tweak the same core technologies. I sincerely hope that MultEQ-X is NOT Audyssey’s only strategy. Because if it is, they will be in serious trouble within 3-5 years.
Audyssey can create artefacts and can sound harsh – especially compared to Dirac Live. This can be remedied with careful room treatment, speaker positioning and microphone pattern selection.
We could speculate on the issues. My guess is that even though Audyssey does not introduce phase-shifts or impulse-response issues of its own, it also doesn’t make those issues any better. So once you start EQing and boosting areas where this is an issue within the speaker system or the room, the artefacts are also amplified.
Audyssey’s answer to some of this was Midrange Compensation. While this is fine, the industry has moved on and Dirac can fix phase shifts and crossover issues more effectively, cleaning up the voice region.
Audyssey needs to have an answer to this, even if that answer is only applied to the centre channel. But they cannot simply sell a pro tool for users to try and figure out how to make Audyssey behave itself and not amplify nasty phase and impulse-response issues. The core signal processing and logic for filter selection needs to improve. If you were to do it only for the centre channel initially to reduce overhead that is fine, and that is 80% of the battle since most content – and especially voice where this is most noticeable – comes from the centre channel.
Update to Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume
I do think there needs to be collaboration between Dolby, DTS and Audyssey (and to a smaller extent THX) to re-baseline what reference is. We need to include meta-data into Dolby and DTS streams that tells the AVR (and Audyssey) what reference level the track was recorded at and what frequency curve / re-eq / room size was used for mastering. See here for more. This is because streaming services are now the wild wild west of mastering.
Alongside this, Dynamic EQ and Volume could be updated to respond to this meta-data and apply the correct curve for playback – as well as engage the correct Dynamic Volume state dependent on whether the track has already been dynamically limited or not – and of course user settings.
However, I think for Dynamic EQ and Volume to be used, firstly the core signal processing needs to improve so they don’t amplify artefacts and distortion. Secondly, Dynamic EQ and Volume will need to have more configurability as explained in my MultEQ-X article. I would like to see surround envelopment levels and frequency response levels configurable in the back end, as sometimes the defaults aren’t quite alright. In some setups, dynamic EQ sounds too aggressive and amplifies the issues. However, surround envelopment is compromised if the offset is raised. Others find surround envelopment way too aggressive while would leave the EQ part alone. I suspect it is to do with the number, size and distance of surround channels. Hence it is best to make this configurable for pro users.
Polish Research in the Field
I feel like Audyssey – and Sound United – have been stuck in their demo rooms for too long. I would like to see them go out to actual home theatres of all shapes, sizes, treatment levels and so on, and do in-the-field research.
Set up Audyssey, do measurements, and start listening to the systems. You will find that things need a bit more polish. I don’t know if improving signal processing and filter selection will help, but dynamic EQ and volume might also need some polish to sound right in all instances.
I would like to see Audyssey try to measure RT60 and automatically adjust the curve based on that. I do think some of the harshness / overbright sound could be due to this. The reference curve takes a standard approach but I would like to see more thought – and proper measurement – put into it.
I would like to see Audyssey get back on top of their game and keep innovating. I love the new-found drive and re-commitment to home theatre. I hope they can think of ways to make users lives easier and lift both sound quality and the technologies included within the AVRs.
A summary of previous points and some further ideas are below:
- Deliver an improvement in signal processing quality and build the next generation room eq with 64bit precision and much-improved algorithms (start with centre channel / voice quality first)
- Lift the bar on subwoofer equalisation (optimise subs separately and then the combined response akin to Multi Sub Optimiser)
- Automatically switch dynamic eq settings based on meta-data as described earlier
- Introduce DSP processing akin to Yamaha’s presence movie DSPs (Denon and Marantz have similar processing but they are nowhere as sophisticated as Yamaha’s)
- Dialogue lift: allow centre channel information to be lifted into screen level using the front height / ceiling channels when the centre channel is below the screen
- Measure height and angle (again like Yamaha) to account for non-ideal position of speakers and correct channel and object steering on the fly based on this information using DSP.
Yes, I am harsh when it comes to reviewing Audyssey’s current performance. But I am harsh because I know they can do much better if they put their minds to it. The heritage they have as a spiritual successor to THX means we expect a LOT more from them than other companies who simply dabble in room correction without the full suite of technologies. I sincerely hope and cheer Audyssey on to get back on top of their game again. I would like to see the fire and brilliance they had in digital signal processing for the home cinema to shine once again!