Is Dirac Live a Good Addition to Denon and Marantz AVRs and Separates?

This question has been on my mind since the announcement and because a customer has asked me this same question recently, now is the perfect time to write about it.

I absolutely believe it is a worthwhile addition and here is a summary of the two most critical points as to why, then we will expand on them:

  1. Dirac Live is better at handling non-optimal listening spaces than Audyssey is
  2. Dirac Live is better at removing or working around issues with the end to end playback chain than Audyssey is

But of course, Dirac Live comes with the following main drawbacks:

  1. Its setup routine is not as fool-proof as Audyssey’s by a long shot
  2. It does not include the ability to apply Equal-Loudness Curves which is absolutely critical for reference listening. Without this, the tonal and surround balance will be off.

Positive 1: Non-optimal Spaces & Dirac Live

As I have described in Secrets of Audyssey at length, Audyssey’s performance in non-optimal listening rooms is, well, non-optimal. Ok, I do have to give you a bit more than that, right?

Audyssey seems to perform worse without room treatment than Dirac Live does. The more room treatment is applied, the more Audyssey’s performance approaches that of Dirac Live. While this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat your room when using Dirac Live, as I absolutely believe you should. In fact, the better your room is, the more processing Dirac Live can allocate to other issues and therefore better its performance.

However, I now truly believe that running Audyssey without at least some basic, well-thought-out changes to your room is hit and miss. Even smaller changes can elevate performance and should NOT be ignored. This is why I also wrote The Room Treatment Guide, as I think this deserved its own e-book. That’s how important this issue is.

However, yes, Dirac Live will very likely perform better in non-optimally treated and set up spaces.

Positive 2: Issues with the Playback System

I will start going into this topic more with Version 4 of Secrets of Audyssey (out around February ’23), which will finally allow our readers to apply 0 RLO to movies, as long as they are following along and improving their systems with each version release, as opposed to cherry-picking what seems tasty from it such as the mic patterns – I know who you are! 😉

Basically, the playback system alters the original impulse response that is in the source by adding noise, distortion, time-domain distortion (such as jitter and group-delay) and tonal changes (Did you know that in some cases group-delay can be perceived as a change of tone?). The pre-amp, amp, inter-connects and especially the speakers add a lot of these offending issues that will alter the original sound.

Most of these issues cannot be handled with room correction, but from experience, Dirac Live seems to be better-equipped to handle some of these issues, especially with regards to time-domain distortion, by performing impulse-response correction. I find that Audyssey is not handling them nearly as effectively, if at all.

Negative 1: Setup Routine

I will not labour this point, but anyone who has run both Audyssey and Dirac Live setup routines will know: Dirac Live is a pain to run and can be rather confusing at first, while Audyssey is easy as, especially if you use the AVR or the App Setup Routine.

I do think that Dirac could really use a simplified setup wizard like Audyssey has, in addition to its tweaker-friendly setup, which could actually be expanded upon. I think that Audyssey having a separate PC app, called MultEQ-X, for in-depth setup has the right idea. Ultimately, not everyone wants to get a PHD in audio-visual science just to setup an AVR.

Negative 2: Lack of Equal-Loudness Curves

I am sorry that I go on about this, but it IS an issue. When Audyssey is setup correctly, Dynamic EQ works really really really really well. The people who are against it are those who haven’t corrected for all the issues within their rooms and their playback systems. Yes, this is a pain when it comes to Audyssey, but for me Equal Loudness Curves are non-negotiable.

This is why I think that I will use Dirac Live only for near-reference-level listening as follows:

  1. Use the equal-loudness curves included in Dirac Live Perfection to arrive at the correct tonal curves based on my listening habits. (e.g. for movies only at 0, -5, -10 and -15 dB listening volumes)
  2. Load them into Dirac Live which normally has 4 slots for these curves
  3. Use Dirac Live Perfection to figure out the surround speaker volume adjustment for each curve and save them into Quick Save Memories on the AVR (there are also 4 of these so I am hoping both the curve and the speaker volumes can be called up using the Denon or Marantz Quick Memories – Sound United, please make this happen!)
  4. Run Audyssey on Memory 1 on the AVR and use it for day to day watching
  5. Run Dirac Live on Memory 2 on the AVR and use it for near reference-level listening for movies

Now the question is whether this will be tiring and might well just use Audyssey – since I have done a LOT of work on both the room and the playback system. That will all depend on how much more performance Dirac Live will be able to eeek out of my setup.

But this will finally be an apples to apples comparison as everything else in the playback chain will remain EXACTLY the same.

However, for those that haven’t or can’t do as much work on their setup to get Audyssey sounding great, the pendulum might well swing in Dirac Live’s favour, in spite of its drawbacks.

Related Articles

Dirac Live vs Audyssey vs YPAO – I expand on some other points in this article so also worth a look

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