What Onkyo, Pioneer and Integra Need to Stay Competitive

Well, now that we have full understanding of Audyssey’s roadmap, I think we have a clear idea of what Onkyo, Pioneer and Integra need to stay competitive.

After all, their main competition has always been with Denon and Marantz, not really Yamaha. Yamaha has always done its own thing and keeps doing that rather successfully!

Room Correction

Whether users admit it or not, room correction is a BIG DEAL. While Audyssey has been focusing on other ventures for the last 8-10 years or providing tools as opposed to core technology upgrades (Audyssey Pro, Audyssey Mobile App and now MultEQ-X), Dirac Live has been zooming past and delivering a knock-out in the out-of-the-box sound quality department. It isn’t just a slight improvement either – when properly implemented – and the fact that high-end systems either use Dirac Live or their in-house solutions should tell you all you need to know!

So choosing and sticking with Dirac is a great option. In fact, Onkyo and Integra almost went out of business because they decided to develop their own in-house solution, AccuEQ, with less than stellar results. To repeat, room correction is a big deal.

Loudness Compensation and DRC

However, as I have alluded to it across a few different articles (here, here and here), the biggest issues facing Dirac-equipped receivers are Loudness Compensation and high-quality Dynamic Range Control, both of which Audyssey is the leader in, and Dirac has no solutions for yet.

Dirac seems to be more of a digital signal processing company without much experience in the cinema industry and I think they need to step up their game in this area, as Loudness Compensation and DRC are also big deals.

While the average customer may not ever talk about these technologies, the absence of them can mean they gravitate back to other solutions over time due to the frustration of of non-consistent playback – and having to continuously play with the remote.

While the technology nerds and enthusiasts might be a lot more forgiving in the beginning, which can lure companies into thinking they have it in the bag. Well, they don’t!

As you know, I do not agree with having to design house curves, especially because our hearing is dependent on volume levels. So playing anything BELOW reference volume will have an impact on how we perceive low and high frequencies as compared to the mid-range. While you are free to do what you want, it is hit-and-miss to be applying some random house-curve instead of having the curve dynamically change according to volume levels (and dependent on original master levels).

What’s more, while enthusiasts will be happy to play around with house curves, the general consumer just wants things to work out of the box!

This is why Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ and Volume were state of the art 10 years ago and they still are. Even Yamaha now has great solutions in the form of Adaptive DRC and YPAO Volume! Of course, Yamaha’s solutions cannot be licensed!

However, Audyssey is NOT the only game in town when it comes to licensing. THX Loudness Plus is a very well-thought out algorithm which includes both dynamic EQ and dynamic DRC technologies. Unfortunately, THX Loudness Plus can only be applied alongside THX sound modes, which don’t seem to be compatible with Atmos and DTS:X. This is a huge oversight in my opinion and THX needs to be convinced to firstly update THX sound modes and secondly to allow THX Loudness Plus regardless of the sound mode.

Another option is Dolby Volume, which is also relatively good, and a great 3rd option.

The issue with current Onkyo, Pioneer and Integra receivers is that they are unable to apply THX Loudness Plus if Dirac is engaged and vice versa. What’s more, while they include THX Loudness Plus, it cannot be applied to Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks as pointed to earlier.

This is a huge oversight and to be competitive, they will need to resolve these issues or the general consumer will pick some other solution next time.

ADCs

Another option for staying competitive and make your products more popular to the high-end customer – especially if you cannot get THX Loudness Plus or Dolby Volume to work consistently with Dirac and across all content, is to put full 12 channel analogue inputs on the receiver and put high-quality ADC (Analogue to Digital Converters) on all 12 channels. Then those 12 channels should be taken through to Dirac Live processing and then delay, levels, etc straight through to the amps.

If this was enabled, then customers that want full 12 channel Dirac Live processing – even if they are in the Audyssey camp – can feed the signal through your receiver and use it as a power amp. Since all the new Onkyo, Pioneer and Integra models seem to have very robust amplifier sections, this could well be a great way to stay relevant and even have sales from people who are firmly in the Sound United camp, while they still keep their Denon and Marantz receivers. Everyone wins.

Summary

I think this is the time to strike the iron, while it is hot as Audyssey has not quite woken up from its slumber.

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