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What's with custom installers these days?

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 
Hey guys. A quick apology if this thread is misplaced, but I have to vent a little frustration at a trend I'm seeing at the various custom dealers in my area.

It seems that, while many of the A/V stores around here have some really nice equipment, they don't seem that interested in helping people get the most out of it through things like professional calibration and equalization, room treatments, etc..

Most of the places I've been to are implying that all that stuff is nice and all, but not really necessary, and you're better off spending that money on better equipment.

When did proper setup and tweaking of high performance gear become unnecessary? Has this idea just taken a back seat to moving product because the economy's been so bad? What happened to the good guys?

I wrote an article about it on my blog. Check it out here if you want:
http://hifidave.com/2010/04/23/high-end-pretenders/

What do you guys think? Have things like calibration and acoustic treatments become unnecessary?
post #2 of 45
I imagine they are more prone to sell you $10k interconnects to improve the sound, rather than paying for the employees to go to specialized training. The only high end store in my area, AudioLab, has an IFS certified calibrator, and they would prefer to do the installation so that they can dial in the equipment to give you the best value. I think you may need to continue shopping to find the right place.
post #3 of 45
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Easyaspie View Post

BTW, one line of product they push hard is..............Bose. They used to have Paradigm, Def Tec and others.

That's a great example of the other extreme. How can you take a place seriously when they talk about quality and then offer you Bose? It seems like in this slow economy, custom dealers would be looking to show their potential customers that they offer a better overall product (gear+know-how) than their competition. You know most of them won't survive by trying to be the cheapest guy in town.

I guess one thing we can hope for is that the slow-down weeds out the bad places that are looking to make money through deceptive practices rather than providing a real benefit to their customers.
post #4 of 45
There is no real profit in having a hi-end store any more. Online options are killing that type of business so to stay alive they have to find something profitable and that means custom installs. Home Automation, full AV distribution, custom HT rooms is the only future local HiFi shops have. They better upgrade their staff and start getting Control4, Crestron, AMX, CQC, Homelogic or similar in house.
post #5 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by hifidavepa View Post

It seems that, while many of the A/V stores around here have some really nice equipment, they don't seem that interested in helping people get the most out of it through things like professional calibration and equalization, room treatments, etc..

If you express an interest in having these services, and are willing to pay, I'm sure you can find somebody to help you out
post #6 of 45
Do you have any suggestions how to find really top notch audio experts to come to my house and calibrate my home theater? It seems easy to find video calibtrators, but not audio.
post #7 of 45
Audio Calibrators can be found at: www.homeacoustics.net

Other than that, I can recommend Adam Pelz (appelz at gmail dot com) or Jim Harber (Jamin at attglobal dot net).

With a significant number of A/V stores and "custom installation" shops, you'll discover their business model, no matter how worded, is really a retail business model. In other words they fully understand how to sell a box and make some margin on that sale. Very, very few have figured out how to make a going enterprise by selling services. This would include design, engineering, construction, audio and video calibration. By the same token, these services do require specialized training, costly equipment, and, in some cases, licensing. The cost of training, equipment and licensing can be a show stopper for many. At the same time, since this equipment can be costly (and bulky to transport) don't expect someone who really, really knows their stuff to travel across the country for a couple hundred bucks.

If you have a system with Audyssey built-in, set up the mic and press the button. It is (usually) better than nothing. For a few more $$$ you might find an Audyssey trained chap around that can do some customization of the Audyssey system. In most cases, Audyssey is better than nothing. I have yet to find a case where pro equipment (QSC for example) and a good calibrator hasn't been able to do much better than any of these automagic systems.
post #8 of 45

At the other end of the spectrum, my son has worked for a couple of high-end installers in the Dallas area and tells me that he’s never seen a case where the customer asked for treatments, subwoofer equalization, etc. They’re typically people with money but no ear, who merely want a “showcase” system.

Regards,
Wayne A. Pflughaupt
post #9 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne A. Pflughaupt View Post


At the other end of the spectrum, my son has worked for a couple of high-end installers in the Dallas area and tells me that he's never seen a case where the customer asked for treatments, subwoofer equalization, etc. They're typically people with money but no ear, who merely want a showcase system.

Regards,
Wayne A. Pflughaupt

This is where customer education becomes so very important. I do agree with Dennis that Audyssey is usually better than nothing. What I really like is the potential for increasing consumer awareness of the need for audio calibration.

When I have a client interested in a dedicated cinema, the first conversation is about the room. I consider it to be a primary component, as important as speakers, amplifiers, screen selection, etc. We also discuss very early how many listeners will the room accommodate, listener positions, speaker positioning, and other mechanical and physical requirements. The laws of physics remain solidly in control. What specific manufacturer of equipment comes much later.

Part of what the HAA teaches (homeacoustics.net) is how important speaker and listener positioning are to the success of a room. As an assistant instructor, I regularly meet installers who have many six figure installations to their credit. After 3 days of hands on education, I cannot recall a single one who wasn't embarrassed at how much better their class system sounded after 3 days, compared to any of their previous projects. The gear is typically mid-fi (Boston Acoustics, Denon, Sherwood Newcastle, Yamaha) and the room is an empty hotel room, or meeting room.

Audio calibrators are out there. But it is a significant investment in time, experience, equipment, and not everyone grasps the math or concepts. Attaining the level II certification requires even further investment of time, and just completing the class does not gain you the cert. The results of a real life calibration must be submitted, and is peer-reviewed, which is quite a lot more than most other calibration certs require.

For most dealers, this investment is hard to justify. Thousands of dollars, weeks of time, to learn some knowledge and skills on what is essentially a service, when they can make money simply selling boxes and some fast installation.
post #10 of 45
Quote:


I guess I have a problem with calling alternative speaker and/or sub positioning and room treatments "calibration". Some may feel differently but to me those are more what I would call system building or design.

Perhaps that's why so many are disappointed with their audio "calibration" ... it wasn't complete. Levels and distances? That's not calibration, that's levels and distances.

Quote:


I would hope that performing a basic calibration would be the first thing they do.

Usually the first thing an excellent calibrator will do is *listen* to the system, then document its current condition which would include near field measurements of the speakers and in room measurements at the seating location(s). Why would any real calibrator even attempt to calibrate a system prior to near field measurements of the existing speakers ... a real waste of time if there's a blown tweeter, something isn't working properly, etc. Further, unless you know what the speaker is doing, just how are you going to tell the difference between a room based issue and a speaker issue? Answer ... you won't have a clue.

Quote:


Running Audyssey or the like will calibrate a system.

No it won't. It may change the sound at one of more seating locations ... generally for the better, but it cannot compensate for the myriad of other things (such as speaker positioning errors) that get in the way of good sound. Audyssey cannot tell you if you have a blown tweeter, it cannot tell that if you'd just move that center channel speaker forward to be even with the face of the shelf, your dialog will clear up.

Quote:


A person with a tape measure and an SPL meter can also calibrate a system.

It is clear, your definition of audio calibration falls way short of what audio calibration should encompass. With a tape measure and SPL meter, there's no way you can accurately integrate the sub(s) with the mains. You won't know of, or find, phase errors, FR problems, errors, SBIR notches ... the list is long.
post #11 of 45
Most of my clients will have a DSP 322ua or at least a DSP-30 dedicated to the subwoofers, so I am doing quite a bit more than kicking subs around and moving chairs! But not everyone reading this thread has that equipment, and many would not even have something like Audyssey, so quite often, the only tools available are a basic calibration of speaker levels and distances, and moving speaker and listeners to the proper position.

If the subwoofer is jammed in the corner, energizing all of the room modes, and the couch is up against the back wall, pushing the start button on the auto room correction is not going to be very effective. Yes, it will likely improve, but the goal is to make the experience the best possible.

A standard audio calibration goes like this.

1. Show up on time.
2. Drag 80lbs of test equipment into the cinema.
3. Sit and listen with the client to his reference material, explain the process.
4. Set up test equipment and take both physical and acoustical measurements.
5. Verify system. This includes checking polarity of every driver in the system, near field response of each speaker, off-axis response, menu settings on the AVR or Pre-Pro, impedance plots, checking distortion levels, etc. No sense calibrating broken gear.

From here, the structure is more fluid. From the acoustical and physical measurement of the room, we determine best seating location to avoid putting the listener in the middle of a null. We can determine subwoofer locations the same way. A basic calibration happens (distance and level matching), and I start listening in stereo. Toe-in, angles, distance from front wall, how much first reflection I want based on earlier off-axis response plots and client feedback. Hours later, once satisfied with stereo, the center channel is integrated. Surround speakers next. End of Day 1.

Second day is all about subs and creating a smooth transition between the mains by use of level matching and phase. Moving the subs into 1st and 2nd measured room modes will help smooth the response plot at the seating position. If I have DSP, then parametric EQ is also used. A "house curve" is added.

Listen, listen, listen to my reference material, tweaking until I am smiling. The client is then allowed back into the room, and we listen some more, and I explain the changes and why. Now that he is better educated, we listen some more, and make final changes based on his listening preferences.

I have started Day1 with the subs after all of the initial measurement and verification. All depends on the mood that day.
post #12 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Easyaspie View Post

It is clear to me that your definiton goes well beyond what calibration really is. Calibration is simply setting levels and distance.

You're right, with the rudimentary tools I listed, you cannot fix all problems. But fixing them is going beyond what calibration is. IMHO.

Meh. This is the primary reason why I have 7 posts in as many years. Why turn a thread that could be educational for many about all the different ways to improve the quality of their room into an argument about what the definition of "is" is?

Professional audio calibrators call levels and distance a Basic Calibration. It is done after the low hanging fruit, like getting the primary seating position out of the first length mode, and getting the center channel pointed at their ears and not the knees. Fix the Stoopids (thanks Jim) first, and you will get much more traction on the Basic Calibration. Not much sense in tuning a high performance car that has flat tires.
post #13 of 45
Quote:
BTW, Audyssey does find phase errors and does compensate for some FR problems.

I'm not going to turn this into an Audyssey discussion ... there are other places for that so, no, I'm not going to give the list of those kinds of errors it won't find or won't and cannot fix. That does not make Audyssey bad ... it is very good as far as it goes; but, it won't come close to what Jim, Adam or I (and some other excellent audio calibrators) will do over two days and with the right equipment in place (ie, 322UA, 922UZ, etc.)

This is audio calibration and not basic calibration ... and I, like Adam, am not going to mince words with you over definitions. That is neither productive nor educational. Audio Calibration is not easyaspie and Easyaspie is not an audio calibrator. Any suggestion that levels and distances is all that needs be done, or pressing the automagic button is the end of it, is flat wrong. It may be all that is appropriate for a $3000 set of gear; but, even at that kicking a chair or a couple of speakers around can make a world of difference.
post #14 of 45
Thread Starter 
Great comments guys. I guess the point of my post is that the attention paid to the room and the mentioning of calibration services and acoustic treatment shouldn't have to be brought up by the customer. Most people don't know the benefits realized by those types of services, and wouldn't even think to ask for them.

I've been involved in some audio and video calibrations and I know the end result can be really dramatic. You'd think that, in a world of ever-slipping profit margins, custom a/v places would really be promoting these services. It sounds like there are places around some of you guys that realize this... but in my area that doesn't seem to be the case.
post #15 of 45
I hear ya HifiDave. That is exactly why an organization like the HAA (home acoustics alliance) exists. The goal is to educate dealers and help them educate their clients. Remember, until ISF changed how the public viewed the need for video calibration, not many shops pushed that either.
post #16 of 45
Please go to www.homeacoustics.net

In the menu on the left side of the page, click on: Audio Calibration
also Sound Quality and Pearls of Wisdom.
post #17 of 45
Quote:
I guess the point of my post is that the attention paid to the room and the mentioning of calibration services and acoustic treatment shouldn't have to be brought up by the customer.

One of our more recent jobs became our job because of exactly that ... the mega large installation firm the client was dealing with, never mentioned "acoustics", never attempted to educate the client...so he sought us out. In the end, it became a THX Certified Screening room. A hard lesson learned by company "X".

Consumers are becoming more educated. They reasonably know that when installer A and installer B tell them something different that one, or both of them is wrong. Consumers are, slowly, becoming aware that just throwing some "totally awesome, dude" stuff in a room, is no guarantee of good audio. The crux of the issue really falls into two problem areas:

1. Installers simply will not take the time and effort to gain the education they need to educate their customers. The installer, day one, out of the class isn't going to know everything but the installer will know, and will have, resources available to assist and continue the learning and teaching process; and,
2. Installers and well intentioned hobbyists are often telling others the wrong thing, passing on the myths or misinformation they have been told by equally misinformed friends and collegues over the years (including the myth that just set the levels and distances and you're good to go) ... in other words they think they know and therefore don't see the necessity since they "already know".

It is all sad; but, hey...organizations like the HAA (www.homeacoustics.net) and THX are working to change that. In fact, the HAA encourages and welcomes consumers and enthusiasts to take the HAA classes. Please do ... it will be great fun and an eye opener!
LL
LL
post #18 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by hifidavepa View Post

Great comments guys. I guess the point of my post is that the attention paid to the room and the mentioning of calibration services and acoustic treatment shouldn't have to be brought up by the customer. Most people don't know the benefits realized by those types of services, and wouldn't even think to ask for them.

I've been involved in some audio and video calibrations and I know the end result can be really dramatic. You'd think that, in a world of ever-slipping profit margins, custom a/v places would really be promoting these services. It sounds like there are places around some of you guys that realize this... but in my area that doesn't seem to be the case.

I suspect it works both ways. Some customers would be turned off by the reseller tried to add cost by offering extra "services". Sometimes a customer wants lowest cost, sometimes a customer wants best performance, sometimes they don't know what they want. The customer has to let the reseller know what they want. If you go into a store looking for low price, they will do their best to give you that - if you go in looking for best service they will give you that, but you have to be willing to pay for it.

I'm not in sales - but I suspect there is a balance involved - you want to keep costs low, and service high, but you can't have both. Some sales people can sense what you want - others you have to tell them.
post #19 of 45
Thanks for contributing. Very informing thread so far.

My question is whether you consider Audyssey as a tool in performing your work? Do you ever conduct your calibration via Audyssey Pro or do you bypass it?

If you were to work in a dedicated cost-no-object room (and I am sure you did many times), what other tools would you recommend to owner? Are there better and more effective EQs than Audyssey that can be utilized in a competent calibrators hands? What do you think about QSC, Dolby Lake, Trinnov, etc?
post #20 of 45
Adam and Dennis are so correct...but of course I am biased since they were the ones who taught me, so my brain pathways have been remapped in their direction (of course, it doesn't matter since it is all true!).

This very incident occurred to me a few months ago. I have offered my services to local area installers/dealers over the past several years so that they won't have to invest. Best of both worlds in my opinion. They get a goto person without having to farm an employee out who might leave taking all their money and knowledge with them to a competitor. Many have been receptive once the initial "is this guy for real?" questions are over with. However, I recently had a large installer in a big city near me who essentially told me that he would rather sell 10 lbs. for a 5 lb. box rather than integrate and set the room up properly. Then proceeded to hang up the phone on me.

The problem is that many don't understand how to employ good audio, they don't want to learn it, and could care less. Even if they do care, they often are unsure how to massage it into their business model and make money for them, so it gets left out.

The learning process is also continual. A 5 day class opens your eyes, but doesn't teach you even close to everything. You have to be willing to continually invest the time and money to gain more knowledge. A lot of dealers/installers don't want to deal with that. Selling boxes is a whole lot easier. Our society of instant gratification. Best wishes!
post #21 of 45
Thread Starter 
Thanks Dennis and Adam. I'm a big fan of the HAA and was lucky enough to get to attend a Level 1 class about a year ago. I can't wait to get to a Level 2 class and hope to get the chance sooner rather than later. Your presence on these forums is a real asset. It's good to know there are people on here with good information. Keep fighting the good fight!

Compliments on the theater, Dennis. It looks amazing!
post #22 of 45
Quote:


If you were to work in a dedicated cost-no-object room (and I am sure you did many times), what other tools would you recommend to owner? Are there better and more effective EQs than Audyssey that can be utilized in a competent calibrators hands? What do you think about QSC, Dolby Lake, Trinnov, etc?

I am not anti-Audyssey; but, I do not use it in my own work and if it is there, I bypass it. Others may take a different approach. There are many very good PEQ tools available including QSC, the old Dolby Lake (I guess it has been reincarnated), Trinnov and others. Personally, I use the QSC products. They are good, reliable, quiet, have remote IP access, and I'm familiar with them. I suppose if the manufacturer of some other device sent one to me to evaluate, test and learn I'd feel comfortable using one in a client's home. I'm not at all in favor of learning some other piece, regardless of it's quality, on the client's dime. If something comes along which is orders of magnitude better than what we use, now, then it would be time to change.

Another little, tiny point. I have borrowed the A-pro kit and played with the system, so I am not entirely unfamiliar with Audyssey; however, if Audyssey wants qualified pros using their "stuff", then they can provide that "pro-kit" at no charge. For all of the other pro gear we use, all the tools, software, manuals, etc. to fully utilize their equipment is without cost to professionals. It's not the cost; by the way, it's the principle (and not an uncommon practice within the consumer and non-pro industry). It goes against the grain to pay to fully utilize a product which has lesser capability than a piece of equipment that I don't have to pay to get the "magic keys". More troubling is anyone, just anyone, with $150 can get the "pro" kit and really, really muck up some guy's system.
post #23 of 45
I really really hate agreeing with Dennis all of the time, so I will vary my opinion slightly!

I also have not worked with Audyssey on any specific system, but I am very informed on the product and it's process and capabilities. Initially, when speaking with Audyssey employees, it was made very clear that it was not intended to replace calibration. Once the product made it's way to distributors and reps...it was a miracle process, the panacea of audio calibration! Meh.

My first experience with Audyssey was during a manufacturer demo with around a dozen other HAA members. The LR mains were pointed straight down the walls and the center channel was about 2 ft off the ground and angled down towards the ground. The rear channels and sub were also tossed randomly into the room. Yup, with Audyssey engaged, there certainly was improvement. We would have been able to make more significant improvements with a few minutes of work as well.

Another long anecdotal story, I know. So to the point! A cool toy doesn't fix Stoopids. I can't fix those things with a DSP322ua either. So whether you are hiring a calibrator with fancy DSP processing or using your AVR's built in auto room correction, you will always benefit more by getting the basics right first.
Audyssey does increase consumer awareness, and I do approve of that.

List : QSC 322ua, DSP-3, DSP-4, DSP-30, Dolby Lake, Symetrix, Bose Pro (ESP-88?)

Those are ones I am familiar with. There are certainly more.
post #24 of 45
It is the ESP-88
post #25 of 45
I just picked up the DSP-30, Im going to compare it to the DCX for active XO duties.
post #26 of 45
SMB, Dennis, appelz-
I really wanted add something constructive to the thread so...:
+1 guys !
post #27 of 45
Jamin ... will you get your butt to Atlanta...the three of us could do some serious damage.
post #28 of 45
Yeah..to a case of scotch and box of cigars.
post #29 of 45
What if the client wants a DSX, Dynamic Volume, and Dynamic EQ, etc.? Is it theoretically possible at all to EQ the system with QSC and/or Dolby Lake and then run Audyssey for those Audyssey technologies? Would that work?

I read in one of the threads that QSC is a parametric single-point EQ solution whereas Audyssey operates in the time domain and multi-point. Thus, more effective. Is there any truth to this?

I hope I won't cause a flame war over Audyssey, not my intention.
post #30 of 45
Quote:
What if the client wants a DSX, Dynamic Volume, and Dynamic EQ, etc.? Is it theoretically possible at all to EQ the system with QSC and/or Dolby Lake and then run Audyssey for those Audyssey technologies? Would that work?

Fair question...method coming. But first, time vs frequency domains. Each has it's own set of pros and cons and with Fourier transforms, it's pretty easy to bounce back and forth betwixt the two. One of the points Audyssey makes, is their ability to examine room response to a higher level of resolution and apply corrections to this higher level of resolution (of course, without specifying exactly what that "level" is). That can be just as good as it can be bad. Applying a high resolution fix (avoiding the "Q" term here), can have very unfortunate down stream impacts on drivers and amplifiers. Another short coming is the Audyssey process considers only room response and does not provide a means to first measure speaker (near field) response in order to constrain its correction. Another example of a short coming, is a case where the user (or "pro" calibrator ... someone who paid to buy the kit) has placed the main free standing speakers within 3' of the front wall. This creates a notch and try as it may, Audyssey cannot correct this. Only a real pro will recognize this has to be addressed by physical means ... moving the speaker or very specialized treatment on the front wall. Attempts to correct this (time or frequency domain) can run the risk of serious problems. FIR filters, IIR filters...again each have their short comings; but, bless the evil marketing department. Real calibration still requires experienced human intervention and must encompass all means available, including, but not limited to, moving the *$(#$ speaker(s).

So now we come to your direct question (don't you just love "what if's"). To achieve the use of Dynamic volume, etc. the process would be to run Audyssey to the six or eight time limit of your pre-pro. Go back into the pre-pro's set up and modify the crossovers to those more correct for the room/equipment being used. Then you want to set Audyssey to default to "flat" rather some other curve. The next step, using conventional measurement equipment and name your poison signal processor (Lake, QSC, Symetrix, etc.) to address the full calibration and deal with issues your particular pre-pro/Audyssey combination cannot handle (like multiple side surrounds, four, five, six subs etc). However, in this case your test signals must be generated externally and passed through the pre-pro. (Many units, like the QSC 322, 922, etc. can generate internal test signals.) You cannot by pass the pre-pro with test signals since you're then bypassing not only your crossovers but whatever Audyssey did and you'll be chasing your tail down in the weeds forever.

Will that work? Yup, it will.

NOTE: if you are using multiple subs or multiple side/rear surrounds beyond what is native to your pre-pro (ie, you are splitting the Left Side Surround channel in three discrete channels external to the pre-pro), you will have to set this up within your external signal processor and set the levels before you run Audyssey. Here's a short, perhaps not complete, method using the pre-pros internal "set levels" test signal:

1. Use speaker set up to set up your speakers (large, small) as you expect to use them and set the crossovers.
2. (We'll use the left side surround as the example). In your external signal processor, mute all but one of the left side surrounds.
3. Set the level for that one side surround...that level MUST be set using the gain control within your external signal processor but using the pre-pro's internal test signal. Once set, mute that speaker and set the level of the next Left Side Surround speaker. Continue until you've done this for all speakers in your left side surround "array".

This process assures you that each of the speaker members of the Left Side Surround channel are set to the same level.

Now you can run your speaker level set up in the pre-pro as you would normally. You'll find your side surround will need some downward adjustment.
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