How a ‘Lightning Calibration’ Reignited My AV Passion

An old friend came to town, and he helped to relight some of my passion and put a charge back into my desire to do good work and leave people with something awesome. He travels the world calibrating ultra-high-end theater systems.
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I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’m betting some of you have been, too. And, well, things mostly don’t make that much of an impact on me anymore. What really started out as a passion for me—turning my love for home theater into a career where I could hopefully work with and play with the newest gear all the time—has mostly turned into a “job” where I am less out there installing the latest gear and more just involved in running a business: ordering gear, scheduling jobs, paying bills, sending invoices, answering phones, etc.

And, honestly, there’s not a lot of passion in me for accounting.

Last week, however, a serendipitous thing happened. An old friend came to town, and he helped to relight some of my passion and put a charge back into my desire to do good work and leave people with something awesome. His name is Adam Pelz, and he modestly calls himself a senior design engineer, but he’s really one of the country’s top audio calibrators. Adam is a JBL Master ARCOS Calibrator and also a Level III instructor for the Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). He travels the world calibrating ultra-high-end theater systems.

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I met Adam several years ago at a Runco calibration training class in Portland, and we hit it off over some craft beers and have stayed loosely in touch over the years. Adam was coming to Myrtle Beach to do a job, and due to some air travel mix-ups, happened to have an extra free day with nothing planned.

Adam drove down to our showroom and brought his whole calibration kit consisting of, like, $60,000-plus worth of ultra-specialized measurements tools. After catching up for a bit, he asked if I’d like him to take a listen to our room and take some measurements.

I’ve been through the HAA class, but it was years ago when we purchased our suite of Sencore tools (anybody remember them?). My class was taught by HAA founder, Gerry LeMay, and I remember being really impressed with what we learned and at how powerful the Sencore SP295 Audio Analyzer was. But, honestly, it has been years since we’ve even taken the Sencore out of its Pelican case.

First, Adam took measurements of our room (overall size, seating to speakers, speaker width, speakers to walls) and then put on some music that he was familiar with. After listening for a bit, he suggested we move our seating forward and spread the front speakers wider apart. He then set up his collection of microphones around our room, broke out his computer and started running some pink noise. Adam’s kit is able to measure across four listening positions at once and then see a sampled average result, so he is giving the best results across multiple seating locations.

After looking at the numbers, it was clear that we had some massively uneven bass and almost no sub output below 36 Hz—even though ours was “rated” to 12 Hz. Adam had a spare parametric EQ in his bag that let him insert filters at different points, and he would go back and forth, inserting and adjusting filters and then re-measuring the results.

After tweaking things for about an hour, Adam made a noticeable improvement in our room, and left us with a much tighter sounding system. Not only did the measurements say it was smoother, but it sounded better, tighter, and more focused. He says that when he is doing a full calibration for a customer, he dedicates an entire day to working on nothing but the subwoofers.

While Adam’s kit—and years of expertise—are likely outside most of our reach, being able to improve a customer’s sound with what Adam calls a “lightning cal” definitely isn’t. Adam recommended a product from miniDSP, called the miniDSP 2x4 kit. This sells for $80 and along with the company’s UMIK-1 calibrated microphone gives you a low-cost entry into basic subwoofer calibration that can make a serious impact on your installs and also give you another line-item charge that can offer value to your installations.

And even better, watching Adam work on our system really got me fired up to get back into working on customers’ systems and making them perform better. I’m bringing in a miniDSP kit to go with an upcoming four-subwoofer in-wall system review from OEM Systems and can’t wait to play with it and see just how terrific I can make it sound, and hopefully making “lightning cals” a regular part of our installations.

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