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Optimizing with a Sound Level Meter

 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 416
Registered: Feb-04
The Radio Shack Sound Level Meter - necessary or an extravagance?

Okay, I can already guess the answers from a couple of regulars, flame away, but here's what I think:

Although, I've felt our SR-7300 has delivered great surround sound, I've often fiddled with the settings to see if it could be improved given our odd room dynamics and so on. After our recent acquisition of a universal DVD player and listening to DVD-A's and SACD's the same thoughts returned even though I, and my wife, thought the sound was absolutely terrific.

But, I suppose it's just 'that constant craving' for perfection. So I purchased the meter for $49.00AU (refundable) just to see how close to 'right' I had things set up!

Well, it must be (the approaching) middle age - a subjective term really, being that we can't forsee the date of our demise - because my ears were proved quite wrong. After reading from info gathered on the net, I spent an hour or two using the meter to adjust the levels on both the receiver and the Denon DVD player. I won't bore you with the 'what I did' details, but apart from attaining a reference volume level from the zero position, the difference after tweaking the levels using the meter was not "night and day" but nevertheless, proved quite discernable.

About the best way I can describe the difference in both surround movies and hi-res audio is that the sound now seems a little tamed, not softer, just more accurate. I suppose in one word "cleaner" would suffice and more evident in the music.

Had I spent much more time using my ears, would I have stumbled on something close to these settings and would I have registered that I had found 'the right' settings I can't really say - but probably not!

So my answer to the original question is yes "necessary." If anything, it can save one a heck of a lot of time!
 

Silver Member
Username: Kegger

MICHIGAN

Post Number: 527
Registered: Dec-03
i would pretty much agree with your assesment
rantz.

i have done it both ways and now from doing it
this way i can get really close without the meter
because i know how it sounds having adjusted with
the meter."if that makes any sense"

also i still tweak after the meter(for personal
preference)

so i don't think the meter is necessary but can
be very helpful and or make it easier.
 

Silver Member
Username: Rick_b

New york Usa

Post Number: 310
Registered: Dec-03
totally agree guys, I have owned one for years!
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1547
Registered: Dec-03
Thanks, My Rantz. A good recommendation. I think you need a test disc, as well, though, otherwise how do you know what the balance is like in the original recording?

This is the one area where the WAF comes in. Mrs A runs a sanity check on her husband from time to time, especially if she finds him listening to test tones. If he came home with an SPL meter she would get quite concerned.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 417
Registered: Feb-04
Guys - yeah, I know, I know! But it did make a difference. Besides, I can get a refund, though I think it's worth keeping.

I know there are special test discs (I'll look for one) though the pink noise tones can be used. But John, we can't have a test disc for each original recording - can we?

BTW, - The Denon does play Diane Krall's Live IN Paris DVD in the surround formats after all. Instead of going into the disc menu, I found out, thanks to my dealer (where I tested the disc on a 2200 and had the same thing occur), that the remote's audio button (not the disc menu) will display the options at a different level and the selection can be made from there. Works Wonderfully!

I was wondering if the remote for your T533 had the same thing and could answer your Kranky Franky DVD-A problem?
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1548
Registered: Dec-03
My Rantz,

Great. Thanks. I will read the manual again. Sigh. There are too many buttons on remotes. When programming the HTR remote I mixed up "skip" and "scan". There is certainly a "choose format" audio button. You can switch between DTS and AC-3 on some DVD-Vs but not others, that is fairly clearly a disc formatting question, I think. Even the DVD-V format is not yet an agreed standard. DVD-A format, as you really get it on various discs, is still in a state of flux. Probably that is not true of SACD; there is only one way....

"But John, we can't have a test disc for each original recording"

No, of course, and we don't want one. What we need is a reference, to set up the system, and distinguish effects in the different recordings from effects of our system. Useful things inlcude: the same "pink noise" sound levels on different channels (a must for a SPL, surely?); spot frequencies and frequency sweeps to see where the crossovers really kick in; and so on. I have a tried and trusted Denon Stereo test disc which is very good. I have a surround/DVD-A test disc on order from Aix records, It has been about 8 weeks, now, and they give no indication of when they will deliver.

Anyone reading who is mystified by "Kranky Franky" might wish to visit recent posts on NAD T533 DVD/CD player user's review, and DVD-Audio. The problem is that the player does not do full justice to Ol' Blue Eyes.
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1550
Registered: Dec-03
My Rantz,

I have now tried all the buttons on the remote control, too. All commands connected with playing the disc produce the dreaded "no entry" sign on the OSD. It sure look like an unplayable disc. The "troubleshooting" section of the T533 manual seems to agree.

Thanks for the suggestion, though!
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 418
Registered: Feb-04
John A

Shame - thought it was worth a shot. Our old Yamaha DVD player would not accept the movie 'Legal Eagles' where all others, according to the rental shop, would.

I am going to keep the meter as I think it will come in handy for system alterations or in case we move someday. Also, I can test neighbours noise levels and keep them in check so they don't annoy us when we listen to our music :-)
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1565
Registered: Dec-03
My Rantz,

Thanks. Yes, my other reservation about a sound meter was "what will I do with it when I've finished with it?". If I owned an audio store, I would keep a few to loan to customers, I think.

You wrote "Okay, I can already guess the answers from a couple of regulars". I wonder what you expected.

There is a recent, related thread started by John Grajek II: Home Theater > Home Theater Setup & Planning > Radio Shack Sound Meter.

I definitely think a test disc is a useful addition, or even alternative. If I bought an SPL meter, I would want to know how to calibrate it, and end up going round in circles. Microphones can may depart from a flat frequency response, just as loudspeakers. In the end, it is what you hear that matters. However, it is always useful and instructive to enquire what is going on to give the sound you hear.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 419
Registered: Feb-04
John A

You are correct about a test disc, however until I can locate one, calibrating with the pink noise test tones is an acceptable alternative and according to "listening' seems to work okay. I got some useful information about this on the 'net and thanks for the link, I check it out soon - wife is urging me to play DSOTM SACD before dinner. Cheers!
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1567
Registered: Dec-03
Cheers, My Rantz.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 420
Registered: Feb-04
John A

Thanks! Okay, I recall that's the thread which led me to expect the flaming. Do I look as if I give a stuff?
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1570
Registered: Dec-03
My Rantz,

Not at all. I fact, I suspect you enjoy some combustion from time to time!

I just wondered what strong views there are about SPL meters. I kind of sided with Jan on that thread, since I could see his point. I wonder if the cable wars derive from the high cost of some cables, and people feeling they might be cheated, or are accused of having been duped. Of course, there will be different brands, and qualities, of SPL meter.....

BTW I am now proud owner of a copy of "Master and Commander". Watched it again last night. It gets better. You were right about Russell Crowe actually playing the fiddle, not just miming, but equally obviously the sound is not of him. No reason why it should be. Get out your SPL during the full broadsides between the "Surprise" and the "Auberon" and it might seem to indicate, wrongly, that your sub needs turning down.

I take you point about the channel level pink noise generated by the player/receiver. But that covers all frequencies, is not coming from the source itself, and doesn't allow you to hear the combined effects of different channels. My stereo test disc has a phase check, but it is "all or nothing", i.e 180 º. I wonder exactly what is on a 5.1 test and set-up disc.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 421
Registered: Feb-04
John A

The fact is, once again, the meter helped to get things sounding better. As I said, not in an earth shattering way, but a perceivable improvement that dear wife noticed also. I just wish I had one from the get-go and saved a lot of time (and those looks).

For those with your average shape room, the meter may or may not be a great advantage, I don't know - I'm not an expert - but for the odd dynamics in our room, it was certainly beneficial. From what I have read, some people would have spent hundreds of dollars in cables and tweaks and probably not gained much more than I did with the meter. Damn, some people even go around sticking that blue stuff on their equipment - now that's tacky, but who am I to cast aspersions? (grinning broadly)

RE: M&C - great sound and a good keeper! I used it as the test movie after calibrations.

Spent the afternoon listening to Steely Dan's 2 Against Nature DVD-A, Neill Young's "Greendale" DVD-A and DSOTM SACD at levels just below the neighbourhood complaint zone. All Wonderful! But especially "Greendale" - the epitome of what rock music was all about.
 

Silver Member
Username: Kegger

MICHIGAN

Post Number: 548
Registered: Dec-03
hey rantz. just so you know i was agreeing with
you on the meter."i have one"

i was just stating how after using one i can tell
what the levels are by ear now better than i could
before.

it also gets me to the even point on all speakers
than i add 2-3 db for my surrounds/center and sub.

also their are many dvd disks that have the test
tones on them "can't remember which ones" and you
can compare that to your reciever and see if they
change if not then go ahead and continue to use
the reciever or mark down the differences so you
can compansate.

i think most of the earlier thx certified dvd's
had the test tones "some better and longer"

also you should be able to pick up a test disk at
best buy. i have seen them their.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 422
Registered: Feb-04
Kegger

Thanks for the reinforcement, it lets me know that maybe I'm not going mad after all. Best Buy is way across the Pacific in that far off and strange land that someday my wife and I hope to visit. Maybe if I didn't buy expensive DVD players and SPL meters . . .

I believe I can get a test disc here, I just have to make a concerted effort.
 

Silver Member
Username: Kegger

MICHIGAN

Post Number: 550
Registered: Dec-03
if you have any thx certified movies check the
extras/special features you might find something
there.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 423
Registered: Feb-04
Thanks, will do!
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1581
Registered: Dec-03
My Rantz,

I think it was 2c who originally recommended

http://www.aixrecords.com/

Looks good, but so far no delivery, nor status report (about 8 weeks later). Not sure what the problem is with them. You may fare better in your location.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 425
Registered: Feb-04
Thanks John A

Here is some hi-res audio surround set-up tips from Telarc for anyone interested (pretty much the same story):

http://www.telarc.com/surround/default.asp?mscssid=ST1JS1W2S4CR8JH5SJ797KM1AB4W5 J39

I believe we have our set up pretty well bang on both for surround DVD-V and the hi-res audio formats. I think from this point I will be spending to build the library. The next on order is: DVD-A The Doobie Brothers - The Captain And Me. An old favourite I once had on LP.
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1582
Registered: Dec-03
My Rantz,

Very nice link. Thanks. A Telarc test disc would be worth having.

They are a bit confusing in mixing angles with distances for speaker placement. But I get the picture. That diagram is broadly what I have, except I have front L and R speakers angled inwards for stereo listening; so their axes intersect at, or a little in front of, my head. If, instead, you have the axes of front L and R speakers intersecting BEHIND your head, then I can well imagine an improvement in imaging from a center speaker. I also note they have converted the ".1" to a "height" channel on some Telarc discs. This is an interesting idea!

BTW what I would do on a surround test disc, in addition to channel identification, would be to have test tones (and maybe music) moving around the circumference of the sound stage at different angular velocities. One could check the crossover frequency at which the sound really stops being directional. Then the in-phase vs out-of-phase check would be very revealing. Many people do not bother with speaker cable polarity even for stereo. With multichannel it is vital. I wonder if this is also part of the reason for the slow acceptance?
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 426
Registered: Feb-04
John A

Other hi-res set-up tips suggest facing L & R fronts inwards only for one listener, otherwise they suggest keeping them aligned straight ahead. This makes some sense also. I believe some of these test discs are only pink noise signals also. I found the pink noise on the SR-7300 and the DVD-2900 okay to use with the meter. The LFE takes a bit of trial and error to attain a happy medium between using the 7300 processing or the analogue outs of the DVD.

I can't imagine not bothering with speaker cable polarity but on other issues I think one could go a bit overboard (as possibly suggested for merely using the meter), but with the assistance of this tool I am now quite happy with the overall set up. The slow acceptance imo is still the lack of promotion. I went into HMV on the weekend and asked the one person attending the counter whether they had any DVD-A's or SACD's. He did not know what the heck I was talking about. Yes, he was young, but they obviously don't train these people! Another major chain is beginning to get a few in as is my regular old muisc store. So things could be looking up soon as far as availabilty goes.
 

Gold Member
Username: John_a

Post Number: 1584
Registered: Dec-03
My Rantz,

Yes, record dealers have no clue, certainly where I am. Even the classical dept in HMV in Oxford street just had "DVD-A and SACD" filed in one section, at the end of the alphabetical listing "composers Z". The big stock is "music DVDs" (all departments) by which they mean DVD-Video with music content.

As for my NAD dealer.... They did not know what DVD-A was at all; thought a digital co-ax connection would be best; did not know the T531 did not have DVD-A; had no 5.1 analogue set-up anywhere. Even their demo Denon A11 "universal" player was feeding two-channel only to Classé amp and B&W Nautilus speakers, through two interconenct cables nearly an inch thick that looked like they were made of gold and could have handled 100 A. From brief listen to Sinatra, I did not think this "high-end" system sounded noticeably better than my much older (and far cheaper!) system. Also, their first suggestion was that the DVD-A disc had the wrong region code - they seemed sceptical when I said DVD-A discs have no region codes. I told them the T533 was golden, an incredible deal, and they should be selling them by the truck load. What advice interested but uninformed people get from them I cannot imagine. No wonder there is a slow take-up.

We had to check out their in-shop T533 on video only (nice plasma screen though). It was enought to tell it would not play Llive at the Sands", either. I will replace the disc, and take it from there. I think I will find that a replacement disc will not play, either, but will have to check to be sure.
 

Silver Member
Username: Myrantz

Post Number: 427
Registered: Feb-04
John A

Isn't it something when you find yourself giving information to those who are supposed know? I will give credit to my Denon dealer for having a swag of hi-res recordings for customer demos.

I agree that another copy of "Live At The Sands" is probably not going to help solve your problem either but yes it's worth a try. It seems common for some players (Denon also I believe) not to accept the odd DVD and require software upgrades as the solution.
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