Yet another ecstatic client of UMR -
After waiting months to get on his schedule, I finally had my AV system calibrated by UMR (W. Jeff Meier of AccuCal) last Thursday. This is a report on the improvements to my system (to both video and audio) that were wrought by his deft touch.
To start off, my AV setup consists of:
Sony SXRD 70" 1080p television
Anthem AVM50 pre-amp/processor/video-scaler
Bryston 9BSST amplifier
5 channels (Definitive Technology)
Mains - BP7000SC (w/ built-in powered subwoofers)
Center - CLR3000 (w/ built-in powered subwoofers)
Surrounds - BPVX/P (w/ built-in powered subwoofers)
Sony BDP-S1 Blu-Ray Player
DirecTV HD20-700 DVR
Oppo 970HD DVD Player
Improvements to video -
I had plenty of time prior to Jeff's arrival to tweak the settings of both my TV as well as the video processor in my Anthem AVM-50. I bought the Avia calibration disc, followed this and other threads closely, faithfully implemented the recommended settings and thought I achieved a pretty good picture. Was I EVER wrong? With a critical eye, Jeff was able to achieve a dramatically better picture consistently across all my sources. He employed a variety of tools including professional equipment, custom software and access to service menus to achieve the optimum image - deeper blacks than I thought my TV was capable of delivering, an overall pop to the picture that is hard to explain (some called it a 3-D effect) and optimum colors.
I consider myself a fairly skilled person technically, but after watching Jeff's work, I realized what I have been missing during my past attempts to tune my system. Obviously, I did not have access to all the high-end technical tools that Jeff has at his disposal. More importantly, I lacked the critical eye and an immense knowledge of the interplay of all the settings that make up an image. There is no way a typical consumer like me could attain this knowledge simply by reading technical material, or by purchasing a commercial calibration disc. There is no substitute to the professional experience that Jeff has had accumulated by tuning hundreds of systems in a variety of conditions. Remember, he is applying optimized solutions that he honed over years of working in this area. There is more art to this craft than science (it is at least 50% each).
Improvements to audio -
My system is more complex in the audio area than in the video area because of an acoustically challenging room, need to integrate an outboard subwoofer with the built-in subwoofers in Definitive Technology speakers and due to the general inflexibility to move speakers/subwoofer around to optimal locations. Even with all these limitations, what Jeff was able to achieve with my audio is nothing less than stunning. I have invested quite heavily into a reasonably high-end audio and I have been unhappy with the quality of sound and lack of integration prior to Jeff's arrival. Jeff methodically worked the system until integration has been achieved between all the components and there is a true balance to the resulting sound. I have listened to high-end audio in dedicated home theaters in my friends' houses, some ostensibly calibrated by professionals. Nowhere in a home setting did I hear the dramatic sound that I hear in my own system now. There is stunning detail to it, surround sound is truly enveloping, bass is all-encompassing, voices are crystal clear, I can go on and on.
I always knew that sound is at least as important, if not more important, to true home theater experience as video. Most people don't realize it, but what draws you into the experience in a movie theater is mostly sound. Now I know that stunning realism could be achieved in a home setting - it does take somebody of Jeff's caliber to achieve it. Tuning audio is not a trivial matter because as complex as video is, audio is inherently more complex to calibrate due to variables such as room acoustics, integration between components and speaker placement that come into play. It is indeed rare to find a calibrator such as Jeff that is equally adept at both audio and video.
Audio is almost an after thought to most people - I just wish that more people realize how big a difference that properly tuned audio can make to either a home theater or music listening experience. I am really beside myself at the sound quality of my system now and am dragging out old DVDs and CDs that I haven't watched or heard in years just to hear the nuances of sound that I never heard before.
Jeff is a consummate professional and would not rush the results. He took all day to calibrate my system with a scientific, methodical approach that only a trained engineer can bring to bear (there, a shout out to all the engineers on the forum).
Jeff's pricing is very competitive and his fee is probably the most well spent ever as far as I am concerned. I would pay that much just for the knowledge I gained by picking his brains while he was working on my system. As I said before, he is a consummate professional and you will be richer for the experience at the end of the day.
I apologize that this post turned out to be a lot longer than I envisioned when I started writing it, but I wanted to convey the truly spectacular experience that a properly calibrated AV system could deliver in a home setting. Take it from me folks, you really don't know what you have been missing until you have a professional of Jeff's caliber tune your system.