You’re probably familiar with the Denver Broncos’ story this year: future
Hall of Fame QB, record-setting offense, expected to win the Super Bowl
by most pundits. They made it to the big game as expected…and were
promptly crushed by the Seattle Seahawks and their really loud fans.
Imagine all of the hard work and expertise that went into the Broncos
season, only to end in disappointment.
|Anthony Grimani (email@example.com) is president of Performance Media Industries, with
offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Paris, France.
This sad story struck me as the perfect illustration of something
that’s happening in our business. I’ve been involved in several recent
projects–including trade show demos and residential installs–where the
final audio calibration and tuning step was left to an automatic system.
Each time, the system failed to deliver. All of those months of design
and weeks of painstaking installation crashed and burned in minutes
as the automatic system trashed the sound performance of great
equipment and engineering. Like the Broncos, these projects got to
the title game, but failed to deliver when it mattered most.
The people that created automatic systems Trinnov, Dirac
Live, RoomPerfect, and MultEQ are all very smart and know a
ton about physics, acoustics, and DSP. They’re also great guys.
Unfortunately, their products simply don’t work well enough on
large custom projects. They sometimes get little things wrong like
when speaker distances are off by a few inches, or when speaker
levels are up or down a dB or two. Sometimes they get a lot wrong,
like when high frequencies are shelved down as much as 15dB, or
when creating crossover frequencies that lead to overload and poor
I recommend that you close the loop. Get out there with your
analyzers and measure what
your systems are doing; listen
to circulating pink noise from
something like the 5.1 Audio
Toolkit and compare that
to reference in-ear Etymotic
transducers. I know you know
what this stuff is supposed to sound
like, so take matters into your own hands. Auto calibration may be OK for
a $500 HTiB, but not custom high-end.
Rooms must be calibrated, and you must see that it’s done right. It’s not
that hard to do right. You need about $500-$1,000 of equipment. Some
test mics from Behringer or Audix, a USB mic preamp and multiplexer,
and Room EQ Wizard from Home Theater Shack will get you started.
A little education is required as well, but we’re not even talking two-year
college-level stuff here. It gets heady if you want to go deep and be the best
of the best, but that’s not necessary. A little knowledge with the right tools
goes a long way. It will certainly produce better results than automatic
systems. If you really don’t want the responsibility yourself, hire a third-party
calibrator. There are a lot of guys around who are already great at
it and will be an asset to your business.
|Rooms must be calibrated, and you must see that it’s done right. It’s not that hard to do right.
Budget about $1,000-$2,000 for a good calibration. It will accomplish
everything an automatic system can, plus detect issues with the installation
that even the best automatic systems can’t. It takes a little more time than
running an automated setup routine, but it’s worthwhile when you put it
in perspective. In one of the aforementioned projects, I corrected what the
automatic system messed up and manually tuned everything in less than
two hours. It was a far cry better than what the automatic system did in
30 minutes. At the end of a months-long project, are you going to quibble
over one-and-a-half hours?
Don’t get swayed by all the hype surrounding automatic audio
calibration systems. Good tuning of a room is still about the human
element. Get your analyzer and grab a copy of the 5.1 Audio Toolkit,
along with some Etymotic ER4S headphones. Spend a few hours
analyzing, correcting, listening, and comparing.
Take pride in your work. Check your work. Show it some love! Don’t
be like the Broncos and take a safety on the first play, throw a pick six, and
one hop the second half kickoff to Percy Harvin and let him score. Finish
the season. Win the game.
Chase Walton contributed to this column.