|Audyssey Sound Equalizer|
|Home Theater Accessories Acoustics, EQ & Room Tuning|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Sunday, 01 July 2007|
Page 1 of 3
More than speakers, equipment, cables and even source material, your room is the single most important component in your audio/video system. While this comes as no surprise to many enthusiasts, be it two-channel or home theater, the room and its interactions (good or bad) with the sound is often overlooked, or worse, ignored. The science of sound can be a bit daunting and not quite as fun or interesting as reading about the latest Blu-ray player or high-dollar power amplifier, yet in many ways, it is vastly more important. I’ve heard million-dollar systems sound less than impressive, while some of my most memorable aural experiences can be traced back to a pair of $300 a pair mini-monitors powered by a simple stereo receiver. How could this be? The room acoustics and tuning have a lot to do with a successful system.
Your room is so important that many companies offer services, ranging from acoustical treatments to complete room and acoustical design, which begin at the construction level. While some form of an acoustic fix can be had for as little or as much as you’re willing to spend, the bottom line is that no room is perfect and every room affects your system’s sound. Room treatments are well and good, but there are those of us who may have to answer to a higher power, a.k.a. our significant others, and he or she may not appreciate the sight of several fabric-wrapped fiberglass panels hanging in the living room. There are companies that will design and help coordinate the building of a dedicated space for you and your system, but this route requires the utmost dedication, not to mention deep pockets.
What if I told you that there was a third option, one that didn’t necessarily require room treatments, nor taking out a second mortgage on the house? In fact, what if I told you this option would sit in your rack and solve most (if not all) of your acoustic problems and was completely automated from start to finish? Would you be interested in it? I thought so.
Introducing the Audyssey Sound Equalizer from Audyssey Labs. The Audyssey Sound Equalizer is a computer-aided and automated system that uses digital filters to correct problem nodes and acoustic anomalies in your room without the need for costly acoustic treatments or potentially expensive remodels. Audyssey is starting to build a little brand equity for themselves with some OEM partnerships – in fact, most Denon receivers sold today feature some sort of Audyssey EQ software. While their standalone solution, the Audyssey Sound Equalizer reviewed here, may have a little in common with its receiver-based brethren, I assure you its implementation, flexibility and power set it not only apart but way ahead in terms of performance.
The Audyssey EQ is a standalone device roughly the size of a modern DVD player, so integrating it into your current system is simple. The Audyssey EQ’s front panel is as basic as they come, with seemingly no buttons or controls cluttering up its smooth silver façade. In fact, the only control found on the front of the unit itself is a large red button with “EQ” screened across it that turns the EQ’s processing on and off. To the right of the red button is a small indicator light that glows green when the Audyssey EQ is working and red when it is off. The back of the Audyssey EQ is slightly more involved, but by no means complicated. The back panel features a master power switch flanked by a typical detachable power cord receptacle. Moving further right, you’ll find the unit’s RS-232 port, as well as a USB input and two Audyssey installer test ports. Moving to the center of the back panel, you’ll find the Audyssey EQ’s eight analog audio outputs, which connect the EQ to your amplifier(s). Furthest to the right are the Audyssey EQ’s eight analog audio inputs that connect the EQ to your pre-amp/processor. The Audyssey EQ is designed to sit effortlessly between your pre-amp/processor and amplifier(s). There is no remote and Audyssey leaves it to you to supply your own analog audio cables. Without getting into the set-up, the Audyssey EQ is extremely simple and easy to integrate into an existing system, and can be yours for $2,500 from your local Audyssey dealer.
While the Audyssey EQ itself may be the epitome of simplicity, its internal hardware and subsequent results on the sound of your system are anything but. You can also get a professional installation and calibration from an Audyssey trained technician. For the purpose of this review, I had to play both consumer and installer in order to better illustrate the hows and whys of the Audyssey EQ.
My Audyssey EQ came with the Audyssey Professional Installation Kit, which consisted of a gym-like bag that housed a small calibrated preamp, a calibrated microphone and stand, the Audyssey MultEQ Pro Application CD, four 18-foot-long XLR audio cables, one 10-foot USB cable and a single XLR to RCA adapter.
Starting from the top and with the help of the supplied manual, I placed the Audyssey EQ in my Middle Atlantic rack between my Meridian G68 controller and my Outlaw 7200 and Mark Levinson No. 433 multi-channel amplifiers. Next, I connected several pairs of UltraLink HT Reference cables between the Audyssey EQ and my above-mentioned components, leaving the Audyssey EQ’s analog input marked 1/mic empty for the time being.
Now would be a good time to point out that the Audyssey EQ can work its magic on multiple systems in multiple rooms if need be. For example, my main home theater consists of a 5.1 Meridian-based in-wall speaker system, which leaves two analog inputs and outputs free on the back of the Audyssey EQ. During the set-up and calibration process you, or better yet, your installer, can select those remaining two inputs/outputs to interact with another system. In my case, I used them for my two-channel system consisting of my Mark Levinson No. 326S preamp and No. 433 amplifier powering my Paradigm Signature S8s (review pending). The Audyssey EQ’s ability to provide separate and unique sound equalization in multiple environments is not only a huge benefit, but also an incredible value.
Back to the installation, into the bag I went. First, I removed the small black box labeled “calibrated preamp” and its matching calibrated microphone and stand. I placed the microphone on the stand and positioned it so that the top of the microphone was in my primary listening position. Unlike conventional room treatment solutions, Audyssey takes the listener out of the equation and substitutes the calibrated microphone for the human. I then connected the microphone to the calibrated pre-amp via one of the supplied XLR cables. From there, I connected my Dell PC laptop computer (sorry, no Mac support here) to the back of the Audyssey EQ itself via the supplied USB cable. From this point on, the calibration process is handled via computer. I installed and ran the Audyssey Application CD and simply followed the onscreen prompts. The onscreen menus through not only walked me through the registration process, but also allowed me to dictate what inputs on the Audyssey EQ would be used in what system or zone and for what purpose. I’m pretty harsh on computer automated set-ups, but I have to say, the Audyssey EQ’s set-up program is easy to understand and even easier to use. Once I finished telling the Audyssey EQ everything it needed to know, which included my current room dimensions, equipment lists and speaker makes and sizes, it was time to get down to the calibration.
With the microphone in place, I connected it to the rear of the Audyssey EQ and the input marked 1/mic, using the supplied XLR to RCA adapter. I returned to my computer and engaged the measurement command. After a short delay, the Audyssey EQ cycled through each speaker by playing a series of “chirps” that the microphone hears and translates back to the Audyssey EQ and my computer, creating a series of measurements for my primary listening position, or “position one,” as the program referred to it. This process was then repeated as I moved the microphone throughout my room, stopping at each of my subsequent listening positions. I ended up with eight total positions (the Audyssey EQ requires a minimum of three) when everything was said and done. Once all of the positions had been entered, the program compiled all of the data and presented me with a Detection Results screen. The Detection Results screen laid out my system and subsequent zones in terms of speaker size, distance, trim, polarity and crossover frequency. Once I double-checked everything to make sure all was well and that my gear was set up to match the Audyssey’s results, it was time for an overall target sound curve.
The Audyssey program offers three distinct curves. The first is Flat, which should produce the flattest acoustic response across all of your positions for a more or less neutral presentation. It is recommended that this option only be used if your preamp/processor has a THX re-equalization engaged, which produces its own high frequency roll off. The Flat setting may have applicability in large, very dead rooms. The second choice is High Frequency Roll Off 1, which does exactly what it says, i.e., roll off the highs to better balance overall frequency response. This setting is recommended for rooms that are 3,500 cubic feet or less. Next, you can choose High Frequency Roll Off 2, which uses a slightly more aggressive roll-off curve then the Roll Off 1 setting. The Roll Off 2 setting is recommended for rooms larger than 3,500 cubic feet. Lastly, there is a setting labeled SMPTE 202M, which is a curve that represents an international standard for high-frequency roll-off applied to a typical 500-seat movie theater. This setting is recommended for users with insanely large listening spaces or dedicated rooms. The program will allow you to try all of the curves and decide which one is best for you and your room before finalizing and programming said curve into the Audyssey EQ itself.
After listening to each option, I ended up choosing the Flat curve and saved the results. What followed happened completely in the computer realm, as the program began to extrapolate the data and apply the subsequent filters to correct and compensate for room nodes and acoustic anomalies that take away from the purity of the sound. I then disconnected the microphone from the Audyssey EQ and connected my last remaining RCA cable to the input marked 1/mic and transferred the settings on my computer to the Audyssey EQ itself.
At this point, Audyssey can show you a series of before and after graphs, based on the data the microphone collected and the resulting curve you chose to apply. While I don’t pretend to know everything about acoustical data, I do know what a proper sound wave should look like and, I must say, after performing the calibration, my graphs went from looking like the Swiss Alps to a dry lakebed. While the set-up I have just described may sound long and complicated, I assure you, it is not. The whole process did take some time – I clocked it at around an hour and a half – but the results are truly dramatic and well worth the effort. Then again, if you buy the Audyssey EQ, the effort will be on the shoulders of your installer, while the rewards will be all for you.
Technically, the Audyssey EQ has no “sound” of its own. Instead, it should allow for you to hear your system anew, the way it was meant to be heard, free from the adverse effects of your room. Does the Audyssey EQ work? Oh, hell, yeah, and the results are not subtle. My room, before the Audyssey EQ, was no slouch, for I had designed into my fabric-covered walls a myriad of acoustical treatments and solutions. Still, there was room for improvement, due largely in part to the shape and layout of the room itself.