It is amazing to me that the most minute settings of speaker-distances and levels determine how many times I will be saying "what?" to my conversation partner later that evening after watching a movie on my home theater. Example: One night I made an adjustment to subwoofer distance by 6 inches, (6 inches!) and the following week a lot of that bass pressure was alleviated, and I suddenly could hear conversations around me much easier. It has been this way for years for issues related only to my HT. There is nothing wrong with my ears, it is just that they are susceptible to distortion, whether it's time-delay problems or unbalanced sound.
For years I have struggled with finding a setup which yields that smooth and balanced sound which does not create pressure and ringing in the ears. I've made enormous positive strides but I still have not made it there 100%. Last night I attended an IMAX 3D presentation of Green Hornet, and for 2 hours my ears were inundated with as powerful a sound in an auditorium that I've ever heard. Afterwards, like any other time, I'll walk out with my ears no different from before, and very much unaffected. Why can't I ever walk out of even an hour of listening to my system at home unscathed?
Audyssey MultiEQ has been the biggest help in making theater sound bearable in a small living room. Before this, if i had the wrong speakers, or an incorrect setting, my ears would be pained even from short intervals of only moderate SPLs, as bright or detailed speakers playing unbalanced sound are more a burden than a pleasure.
I have come a long way with sound in 10 years. I live in an apartment, and can still play reasonably loud levels using Dynamic EQ without a single complaint. I can tell my sound response is much flatter than before. My subwoofer is smooth and controlled to the point where the neighbor complaints about floor shaking is history. My sound is as close to theater as I've ever remembered it being. Still, as balanced as the sound is, I feel that occassional discomfort which I never have in a theater.
Audyssey is a staple, but it is also a bit of a crapshoot in terms of results. I have gotten results using identical mic-locations which range from bearable to unbearable in terms of clarity/brightness of sound. The one constant however is that any deviation from its settings throws off the balance of the soundfield, which always expedites ear-fatigue. This is true with subwoofer-distance as well, which is the hardest but also one of the most important settings to get correct. In the end, ears always tell me if something is off. In that respect, there is only one correct setting for subwoofer distance to your last set of measurements, and if it's not in harmony with other speakers than the sound suffers.
I'm beginning to think that certain rooms are borderline impossible to work with. As it is now I set my HT up down one length of an "L" shaped room. I always seem to have a problem with one frequency or the other, but I'd say now at the very least I'm at the best it's ever been.
Here are a list of things that seem to have positive effect in the past:
1. Running Audyssey correctly, with result that is clear and balanced sound.
2. Speakers moved at least 3 feet from wall (sub included).
3. Speakers toed-in to center spot, reduces sidewall reflection.
4. Making sure receiver speaker-distance and actual distance is identical.
5. reasonable quality of speaker - Energy C-series.
*Front speakers all at ear-level - surrounds angled down to listener. Have noticed that avoiding tweeter at ear level in past reduced ear fatigue in poor rooms to avoid direct sound at your ears, but this shouldn't be neccessary.
Speaker placement and Audyssey results seem to have the most effect on everything. Toeing in speakers seemed to produce a more bearable sound in a 12 x 20 foot room. Ideally I think only a slight toe-in is more ideal, but given the narrow room, this isn't as ideal here.
I do have minimal treatments/traps for area behind speakers, especially the corner with subwoofer. Still, I suspect that ceiling/wall reflections are creating some sort of distorted sound-wave that is bothersome to my ear in expediting a slight pressure and ringing. This does not happen in a movie theater which has even louder sound.
I'm thinking I should just keep experimenting with Audyssey until I get that perfect balance - if it is possible. Or, maybe I'm looking for something that is only obtainable with the perfect room, and/or more advanced equipment. My goal really is to maintain the great soundfield I have but eliminate any of the fatigue.
If any of you have experienced this same challenge, and can provide any unique solutions or advice as always I'm all ears no pun intended!