Goodbye Center Channel - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 07:52 AM - Thread Starter
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In a previous thread regarding using two center channel speakers, one above the display, one below, AudioJosh noted that he doesn't use a center channel, and that a good system doesn't need one. I was running Paradigm Signature bookshelves and my salesman talked me into adding a center speaker. With something bordering on evangelical passion, he told me the center channel is the most important speaker in the system. I bought it, installed it, hated it, and finally took it out. My receiver (Pioneer Elite) has the NO center channel setting and this works better than fine after a good set-up. The sound stage, for my tastes, are much more immersive. In fact, my current thinking is that the F/R are the most important, followed by the surrounds, followed by the center if you have a large, square room. Thoughts?
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post #2 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 08:06 AM
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I was running Paradigm Signature bookshelves and my salesman talked me into adding a center speaker. With something bordering on evangelical passion, he told me the center channel is the most important speaker in the system. I bought it, installed it, hated it, and finally took it out. ... Thoughts?
I'm thinking he sold you the wrong CC speaker. wink.gifbiggrin.gif

When I upgraded my mains to Studio 60v4s, I bought a gently-used CC-590v5 to go with them. But I didn't like the sound of it: Because of the dedicated 4" driver, I found the midrange (particularly dialogue) to be too "localize-able".

I A/B'd the 590 against my buddy's CC-690v5 (he also has Studio 60v4s), and immediately KNEW that that was the speaker I really wanted...so we went to his local Paradigm dealer so I could buy one. It's one of the best HT purchases I've made. smile.gif

Not only does the 690 sound great, I find that it also adds weight and precision to movie dialogue / concert vocals that the Studio 60s alone can't deliver.


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post #3 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 08:07 AM
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My thought is that it's very much dependent on your listening habits. If you always sit in one position and optimize the location of your mains then you should get a 'phantom center' effect that is quite convincing. This effect, however, will tend to break down as you move laterally, so other listeners won't have it as good.

That being said, the concept of the center being most important tends to apply primarily to movie viewing, where dialogue tends to come mostly from the center channel while ambient sounds, effects and music are coming more from the left and the right. If you bought your system for critical listening to stereo music, you may find a center channel speaker to be quite unnecessary.

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post #4 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 08:14 AM
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Welcome fellow convert.

The majority of my setups have no center channel. I think they are not useful in as many situations as people think. (that includes movies)
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post #5 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 10:26 AM
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Glad it worked out for you but I completely disagree. biggrin.gif

There is more than just voices coming out of your center. Go stick your ear up close sometime...

In fact, I have posted on many occassions that my center changed my entire HT environment and is the best purchase I have ever made, over my sub and pre/pro.
I moved way up the food chain to get the center I have and I could not afford the matching towers in this family so I went with the monitors in this family just to get that center. I do not have room for a third monitor and we are talking dedicated center. The best thing I ever did was "settle" tongue.gif for monitors in a higher end family to get that higher end center.. In fact I say bet the farm on your favorite brand of speakers and go AS HIGH up the line as possible to get the best center and then go with monitors if the higher family of speakers put towers out of reach, Typically, but not always, in this situation, the center will be equal in cost to the monitors and I know this scares some folks... My center was exactly the cost of the monitors without stands. Don't try to bargain shop on a center....

Now, I recently bought a 3.0 for my bedroom. I did not follow this logic in my bedroom, as I just did not require the level of sound in my bedroom as my living room rig.
I went with B&W CM5 monitors. There are two centers available in this family of speakers and I opted for the smaller two way design as once again this is just bedroom duty. What a difference in performance between the two rigs. I could have got by with phantom in the bedroom but I am still glad I went with the smaller center but I can now see why some may say screw if their experience is going with a lesser center and making a decision based on this experience only. My bedroom center sounds boxy and nothing like the living room center (as it should-two different levels of speakers).

I think once you try a certain level of center in your rig you will see how important it is. I put on a blu-ray concert and am blown away every time. I do think it's the right idea to go phantom until you can afford the matching center in a higher level of speakers and this is much better than trying to buy all speakers on a set budget.Take your time.

But this is my thoughts based on my own speakers and expererience. If phantom works for you great but I still don't think it's the best option.

Rick

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post #6 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 10:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr.SoftDome View Post

I think once you try a certain level of center in your rig you will see how important it is. I put on a blu-ray concert and am blown away every time. I do think it's the right idea to go phantom until you can afford the matching center in a higher level of speakers and this is much better than trying to buy all speakers on a set budget.Take your time.

I used to use a Bowers and Wilkins HTM1 with my N801's. I preferred sans center. Was I not at a "certain level"?
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post #7 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 10:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JerryLove View Post

I used to use a Bowers and Wilkins HTM1 with my N801's. I preferred sans center. Was I not at a "certain level"?

You were 3% beyond that level.

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post #8 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 10:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JerryLove View Post

I used to use a Bowers and Wilkins HTM1 with my N801's. I preferred sans center. Was I not at a "certain level"?

What's a sans center? Is that B&W? Is it the matching center for N801's?

I don't know and I have not heard the HTM1 center. I do know what Dynaudio Confidence did to my own set-up. I do know how the small B&W CM center sounds in my bedroom and I do know what a paticular ID brand center sounded like before I moved to Dynaudio and I also know what the Dynaudio Focus center sounded like prior to my move up to Confidence.

Whatever the case, I still say the center is key.

Rick

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post #9 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 10:50 AM
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Been using a phantom center for about 5 years now as there was no practical place to put it with my plasma. I have no issues without it. If I were eventually to get a large projector screen I would probably get a center again as the mains would be too far apart, but on either side of a 50" plasma, I don't think a center makes a huge difference.
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post #10 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 11:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr.SoftDome View Post

What's a sans center? Is that B&W? Is it the matching center for N801's?
I don't know and I have not heard the HTM1 center. I do know what Dynaudio Confidence did to my own set-up. I do know how the small B&W CM center sounds in my bedroom and I do know what a paticular ID brand center sounded like before I moved to Dynaudio and I also know what the Dynaudio Focus center sounded like prior to my move up to Confidence.
Whatever the case, I still say the center is key.
Rick

"Sans" - Without.

Personally, when viewing 5.1, 7.1 content, etc... I like having a center. If the soundtrack is mixed that way, I like the intended content coming from the intended, speaker. I don't like the idea of all the front content being crammed, all together, out of two speakers.

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Of course, I got it modified with the TK-427, which cheeks it up another, maybe, 3 or 4 quads per channel.
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post #11 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 12:03 PM
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For me it seems to be an issue of speaker separation. The times where the center has improve imaging have also been the times when there's been signifigant distance between the speakers (6+ feet, though I suspect angle is as important as real distance).

Then the sound-stage of the L/R speaker becomes more diffuse and to get center-staging the center-channel is very useful.

Also: sorry for the confusion. Yes: "sans" means "without"
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post #12 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 05:15 PM
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IMO, the phantom center has the potential to outperform any physical CC speaker ever made. However, the conditions must be perfect.

The reason for the high potential is, of course, that only a phantom center can provide a 100% perfect timbre-match for the left and right speakers. It is simply not possible, except in an anechoic chamber with the speakers suspended in mid-air, for a CC to perfectly match the mains, because no CC can have the same relationship with room boundaries as the mains. In a real room the CC speaker will sound different even if it is identical to the mains, because of placement.

Additionally, there can be only one listening position, centered and on-axis, and the mains must be perfectly separated in the classic equilateral triangle relationship with that position.

Finally, there must be as much dynamic range available over two channels as would normally be available over three. This could infer two great speakers instead of three good ones, which is a benefit. Those two speakers might be selected for their particularly solid stereo imaging. It could also require a more powerful AVR because the CC amp channel will simply go unused.

Is a room where the audience is never more than one person really a "home theater?" smile.gif

In any case, there are a lot of nicely equipped 1200-cubic foot rooms out there where a 60in plasma and a 4.1 nearfield setup (with dipole surrounds) could provide a near-perfect movie-watching experience. As long as solo viewing is your idea of perfection, that is!
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post #13 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 08:36 PM
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^^ I very much appreciate your comments.

In my (admittedly limited) real world experience I would approach the center channel this way, in order of preference ...

Three identical speakers.

Phantom center if the mains have excellent imaging and good placement is available.

Traditional LR mains with a solid, timbre matched horizontal center (with any average to good quality speakers).

Phantom center, regardless of overall speaker quality, if the center speaker is mis-matched/compromised in any way.
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post #14 of 384 Old 01-04-2013, 08:40 PM
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Just curious, do people who dislike centers like the idea of 7.1/6.1? Or do they prefer just 2 surrounds

No subwoofer I've heard has been able to produce the bass I've experienced in the Corps!

Must..stop...buying...every bluray release...
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post #15 of 384 Old 01-05-2013, 01:23 AM
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I don't think anyone dislikes centers per-say. I think that some of us find that centers are not appropriate for all rooms.

I disagree with the single listening spot. We had dialog issues throughout the room before removing the center and they are now resolved.

I haven't tried 6.x in a small room to comment on how well that imaging works for me.
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post #16 of 384 Old 01-05-2013, 01:49 AM
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I wouldn't mind running just my two towers and seeing how a phantom center would sound, but my current center was so expensive and it's bad ass, I'd hate to not use it. Lol

Quote:
Of course, I got it modified with the TK-427, which cheeks it up another, maybe, 3 or 4 quads per channel.
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post #17 of 384 Old 01-05-2013, 02:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrEastSide View Post

I wouldn't mind running just my two towers and seeing how a phantom center would sound, but my current center was so expensive and it's bad ass, I'd hate to not use it. Lol

I tried that a few times with all the speaker sets I had. With the lower end speakers, the phantom idea was actually pretty good. Now with my current speakers I actually found that I liked having the center biggrin.gif Would even be better to have a matching vertical center biggrin.gif

No subwoofer I've heard has been able to produce the bass I've experienced in the Corps!

Must..stop...buying...every bluray release...
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post #18 of 384 Old 01-05-2013, 04:21 AM
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With a center channel speaker you can do things that are not possible with a phantom center speaker. While viewing a sporting event you decide you would rather put your head in the blender with the margaritas than listen to another second of that obnoxious announcer. No problem, just turn the center channel Level down as low as it wil go. You still hear the all the game sounds, the crowd, the refs, everything except the announcer. It is more like being at the game. And when the commercials interrupt it works sometimes on them also! Phantom center just puts out twice as much annoying announcer haha. The openning ceremony for the Chinese Olympics was totally ruined by Mat Lower who talked continuously thru the entire event obscuring the music.
Try it. Of course most people want to hear the commercials during the Superbowl so it just depends on the event. Not much more trouble than changing the volume on the remote. I occasionally use it on Nascar races.
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post #19 of 384 Old 01-05-2013, 12:41 PM
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I tried 3 or 4 different center speakers, but in no case did I feel the sound matched what I get by using the phantom setting with my Legacy Audio Signature II front L/R speakers. The problem I had with every center speaker was that I lost the baritone quality of male voices, no matter what crossover I tried. I think if you have truly full range L/R speakers, it's difficult to find a center speaker that satisfies you.

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post #20 of 384 Old 01-05-2013, 10:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob7145 View Post

With a center channel speaker you can do things that are not possible with a phantom center speaker. While viewing a sporting event you decide you would rather put your head in the blender with the margaritas than listen to another second of that obnoxious announcer. No problem, just turn the center channel Level down as low as it wil go.

You've got that backwards. This is far *more* effective with no center channel. Instead of mucking with the level, just tell your AVR you have a center. Then all that dialog will go to a speaker that doesn't exist.
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post #21 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 09:03 AM - Thread Starter
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Bookish Boy received great insight from the original comment "Goodbye Center Speaker". In the spirit of additional clarification, the room is long and narrow, giving 6.5 feet separation between the left and right speaker. This home theater is designed for use by one person, as the significant other would rather die than be exposed to the horror and sci-fi films, flower power music (fever tree, vanilla fudge, etc.) that make up the daily content. I did have to work at getting the speakers and the viewing chair in the right position for the phantom center to work perfectly. The result did lend greater realism to male voices, especially baritones, which took getting used to. A great many centers, especially small ones, sound squeaky to me now.

Result of a ton of great comments: I like the immersion of the phantom channel (4.1) better than the authoritative realism of 5.1. It reminds me of the old movie theaters and watching films like Doctor Sardonicus. It's big sound rather than perfectly focused sound. We have another room, lets call it Switzerland, where the space is wider, there is a center speaker, and both Wendy Williams and Two Broke Girls come in tight and clear. If I upgrade to the new Pioneer Elite, there is an option to double the feed to the L/R and truly power up the creation of a super phantom center (think the original Frankenstein movie and the good doctor throwing the big switch). Of all the options lent to bookish boy, I like this one best--sending more power to the invisible man.

Sincere thanks for sharing--I learned a lot.
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post #22 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 07:04 PM
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Going without a center may require more knowledge of setting up a space for audio and your speakers and receiver.

 

  • What kind of speakers do you have?
  •    Do they make a large sweet spot? Or are they known for having nulls in various horizontal off-axis positions?
  •    Does the matching center mitigate poor fronts' sweet spot?
  •    Do they splash tons of sound at the walls?
  •    Is what they splash on the walls the same frequency response as what you listen to on-axis?

Controlled/constant/uniform directivity speakers give an even FR as you get off-axis. It's what Floyd Toole prescribes. Otherwise, a center may well be superior if you need a wider sweet spot and you don't want the sound field to collapse to the listener closest to each of the two front speakers.
 

  • How is the room treated acoustically and setup?
  •    If you have first reflections that have a frequency response that's bad (doesn't mimic on-axis), are the first reflections tamed? Can you mitigate these problems?
  •    Can you cross-fire the speakers with aggressive toe-in to make a wide sweet spot?

If you can make a large sweet spot with the two speakers, you might do better without the center.

 

  • Does your receiver turn on dynamic range control when there's a phantom center on Dolby Digital?
  •    Can you defeat this some how (many don't tell you that they forced DRC)? Can you circumvent this with DTS or other sound tracks or decide in the player or use external amps?

If your receiver does bad things in phantom mode you may have to find a way to use a center speaker in the best way you can.

 

How is the center speaker and its placement?

  • Is it in a compromised position? Reflecting off table surfaces or placed way low or high or inside a cabinet shelf? Is the center wimpy compared to the other two speakers? Why, when the center channel is so very important? If so, you might be better with a phantom setup.
  • Can you place the ideal center (matches the other two) in the same vertical height and centered behind an acoustically-transparent screen? A matched center will probably do better than a phantom setup.

 

-----------

 

As far as who uses a phantom center... you have a mix of people who are big two channel fans. Some of them may not be aware of what compromises they're making. Others will be more educated and know they can produce a better setup with their two fronts. Some are into surround sound and are educated and knew a phantom in a 4.1/6.1 presented fewer compromises. Some are uneducated and don't realize the importance of the center channel content and they're mired in the old school world prior to multi-channel surround.

 

Likewise, some people WITH a center speaker use a poor one: huge fronts with 4" drivers in the center speaker?!  Others use what they thought was a good center speaker but it has big lobing problems or they place it poorly.

 

Personally, I'm upgrading to SEOS speakers and I don't have room or budget for a big center under the screen, or to build/buy an acoustically-transparent projector screen, so I'll try a phantom center for now and see how it goes!

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post #23 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 07:54 PM
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Me thinks some of the threads from yesteryear need to become stickies.

If you don't use a center channel, DD automatically initiates dynamic compression behind the scenes. This causes you to lose lots of LFE and dynamic peaks. Simply put, to get the full DD soundtrack experience, you MUST use a center channel, otherwise the presentation is compromised.


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post #24 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 07:57 PM
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I read through the AVS and some of the HTS thread about this. It looked like many receivers did DRC. Others like Denon, some Yamahas (not yours) and reportedly an HK did not perform this evil.

 

I was wondering if this is still the case. And how the HD soundtracks on Blu-Ray affect this, if at all? 

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post #25 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 08:05 PM
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The easiest way to test it is to play a scene with the minimum required 5 speakers and sub hooked up, then setup your receiver to tell it no discrete center, but phantom center, then play the scene again at the same master volume. In dynamic audio scenes, the difference is easily noticed, assuming one's hearing isn't crap. I'm doubtful that those who reported DRC not engaging without the center were providing accurate information.....I think they either didn't want to believe it or didn't conduct the test properly.


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post #26 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 08:07 PM
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I think using a phantom center deeply depends on how good your L and R are.I have only 2 towers that are definitive 8060-st's...there bipolar but image great and I use a phantom center.Crazy thing is I had the matching 8060-cs center for a while and was never really satisfied with it...was a 700 dollar center...sold it and now only use my towers.They have such a huge focused sound I don't need a center but eventually I'll get another 8060 tower for a center when funds allow for even more fun...wink.gif

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post #27 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 08:24 PM
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No.

It doesn't matter how great your LR might be or how terrible your center is. Without a center, dynamic range compression kicks on, and dynamic range compression is a watered down sountrack experience.
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post #28 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 08:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveCallas View Post

No.

It doesn't matter how great your LR might be or how terrible your center is. Without a center, dynamic range compression kicks on, and dynamic range compression is a watered down sountrack experience.

OK, just so we're clear, are you maintaining that every receiver that processes Dolby Digital will do this?

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post #29 of 384 Old 01-10-2013, 09:44 PM
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Pioneer 1014 - Master & Commander BluRay

 

While of course I'd like for my receiver to not stupidly compress when in phantom mode, I'm certainly open to the decoding and speaker management implementation software being different for different makes/models. I don't consider myself or the Pioneer 1014 very special or charmed and deserving of immunity from such evils. It was a pretty popular receiver at the time...it wouldn't surprise me if it was one of the majority that engages DRC when we wish it wouldn't.

 

  • I ran the Master & Commander Test at 9:00 to 9:11, the initial attack by the French Man o' War.
  • Note without HDMI on this receiver, I cannot process HD soundtracks in their original. I'm not sure what I get for DTS, and I get a better version of Dolby Digital from Blu Ray than DVD.
  • Meter is Galaxy CM-140 on the 80-100 level with Max hold turned on.

 

First, DTS English : Master Volume -25

Center On? DRC? Midnight Max dB
Y N N 97
Y N Y 97.3
Y Y N 97.3
N N N 98.3

 

 

Next, DD French (no DD English on this BluRay) : Master Volume -22

Center? DRC? Midnight Max dB
Y N N 96.5
Y N Y 96
Y Y N 95.4
N N N 96.1

 

Interesting that I got no change, really, from Midnight mode or DRC when in DTS?

 

Most importantly, no giant loss of volume on the peaks of the scene. Not the 18dB swing as was reported below.

 

So, six years later after the below tests, here are factors that might explain why I couldn't reproduce the DRC compression problem this time...

  • I'm using a receiver circa that period.
  • It's a Pioneer THX model.
  • I'm using Blu-Ray. Maybe since it's not the best version of M&C, maybe it had compression problems already in all its soundtracks?
  • Maybe the French DD of M&C (on this disk) doesn't use DRC meta tags the same way as the English?

 

Not sure why, but even though I matched the volume of the regular 5.1 peaks pretty closely, the DTS disk sounded very different during these 10 seconds. Better. And I don't think I have what people hail as the best version of this soundtrack?

I don't have War of the Worlds, but I'll try another disk tomorrow.

 

 

Quote by Ikkla in 9/14/2006  http://www.hometheatershack.com/forums/home-audio-subwoofers/1736-bass-effects-downmixing-dd-stereo-spectrum-labs-information.html#axzz2HdpKcpFh:

I measured a few scenes with a professional SPL meter with four different configurations: DD 5.1, Downmixed 5.1 'stereo', DD 4.1 (center disabled) and Downmixed 4.1 'stereo' (center disabled). In reality I don't have a center speaker.

DD 5.1 always gave the highest SPL result, the other three were identical, but always much lower level.

FOTP - 'barrel roll': ~10 dB difference
M&C - 'first round': ~18 dB difference
WOTW - 'lightnings': ~9 dB difference


Read more: Bass Effects on Downmixing DD to Stereo and Spectrum Labs information - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

Eyleron is offline  
post #30 of 384 Old 01-11-2013, 01:59 AM
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Eyleron - if you read through that original thread, DTS doesn't engage the DRC, only DD.


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