I have written about Dirac Live extensively on this site (just check Menu –> Audio Guides –> Dirac Live) so I guess this article is highly overdue.
I remember when I first used Dirac Live back when it was released. It was by feeding a top of the line Yamaha Avantage receiver with Dirac-corrected multi-channel audio from a home theatre PC. I was so impressed that I bought a MiniDSP to integrate Dirac into my setup.
Over the years I have used Dirac Live in a few audio products and always came away impressed. In this article, I would like to share a few tips with you that I have discovered on getting the very best performance out of Dirac Live.
Well, there are five things that make a large difference when setting up any room correction system – including Dirac – and these include:
- Speaker positioning and installation
- Room treatment
- DOs and DON’Ts of microphone placement
- Microphone pattern you use to calibrate
- How you configure it (Target Curves)
You want to read till the end because number 5 is the most critical with Dirac Live in my opinion and I promise it will be very juicy. But first things first.
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, Dirac Live will spend precious DSP cycles on trying to fix these issues instead of focusing on issues that cannot be fixed with speaker installation – or our next big item – room treatment. We really want Dirac Live to focus as many processor cycles as possible on phase, frequency and timing issues with our playback system, not issues resulting from incorrect setup. This can allow for a radical elevation of performance.
One of the biggest misconceptions in Home Cinema technology today is that you can solve all room acoustical issues by using sophisticated Room Correction Algorithms – such as Dirac Live. 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.
While Dirac Live is one of the most capable room correction solutions on the market today, it isn’t going to defy the laws of physics. While you don’t need to go overboard with this, you need to treat the most problematic areas in the room.
I describe this point in a lot of detail in Dirac Live Perfection and do a deep dive into the topic as well as show you how to build such room treatment panels cheaply in The Room Treatment Guide.
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. Considering the money you have spent on Dirac Live, you want to extract as much performance out of it as possible, and I promise you: it is possible!
DOs and DON’Ts of Microphone placement
Those that read my blog regularly know that this is my Microphone Bible that I live by and it applies here as well. Thankfully, when using the UMIK-1, you’re mostly forced to follow them. However, some AVRs now integrate their own easy to use Mic with Dirac Live so the below is still important:
- 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 better results!
- Do follow the microphone patterns Dirac Live or my guide Dirac Live Perfection – if you choose those patterns instead – gives you
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.
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.
Dirac Live has some excellent mic patterns built in. As you’ve just learnt, the tighter patterns will give you better imaging while the wider patterns focus on more seats being good seats over a wider listening area.
In addition to the ones Dirac Live gives you – especially if you aren’t getting on with the stock patterns – there are 3 patterns that I give you in Dirac Live Perfection that you can experiment with and have had great user feedback.
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 about 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 Dirac Live after Setup Routine Has Run
Ok, congratulations, you have stayed for the main event.
My main gripe with Dirac is that it doesn’t have any Loudness Compensation – like Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ. I have talked about this issue extensively again and again but let me summarise the issue here:
- People make up their own house curves thinking that they will work for all material. The issue is that the correct curve changes dependent on the content you listen to (such as movies or music) and the ideal curve also changes according to listening volume. This is why people enter a house curve, which works with some material and sounds like crap with others.
- What users also aren’t tackling on the forums is the issue of surround envelopment. Depending on the mastering volume for the content AND your listening volume, the surround levels MUST change relative to the front speakers otherwise perceptually they will either be too weak or too hot. Unfortunately, Dirac Live doesn’t do squat with either of these issues.
- The above creates a LOT of frustration for some people so they go back to a piece of technology that they know – such as Yamaha’s YPAO or Audyssey.
- Unfortunately, moving UP the proverbial ladder and investing into something more expensive such as ARC doesn’t fix these issues.
So what’s the fix?
- I created a calculator for Dirac Live Perfection that allows you to calculate the exact curves YOU will need for YOUR content and YOUR listening habits, not for Joe on the forums.
- This results in 3-4 curves you can load into your Dirac Live target slots that you can switch at will or assign to inputs.
- I even give you a configurable printable cheat sheet that you can use.
- You can emulate YPAO Volume, Audyssey Dynamic EQ or the gold standard: ISO 223:2003. I even give you blended options so you can play to your heart’s content.
- I give you ready to load Dirac Live Target Curves that are ready to go.
I wrote Dirac Live Perfection, because I saw a huge need to educate people about these issues, which have helped countless people in the YPAO and Audyssey camps. I spent a lot of time to come up with the calculator by doing measurement, analysing the data and writing the guide so you don’t end up frustrated with Dirac Live, but reap THE FULL BENEFITS of one of the best room correction systems in the World.
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